The Gillette Wild trailed 2-0 on Friday night after the first period despite out-shooting the Yellowstone Quake 19-8 in the first frame of play.
The Wild (13-7) slowly clawed back. They tallied a goal in the second period, and a last-minute tying goal in the third period to send the game into a 3-on-3 sudden death 5-minute overtime period — the first overtime period of the season for the Wild.
And 1 minute, 37 seconds into that extra frame, Wild forward Nathaniel Fanning deflected a hard pass/shot from Danny Ramos off of his back hand, popping it up over Quake goalie Michael Allman’s left shoulder and into the net. The Wild bench cleared to tackle Fanning, who had just scored his first game-winning goal of his junior hockey career, and the bum-rush signaled a 3-2 overtime victory over the Quake (6-13-2) at Spirit Hall Ice Arena.
“After putting it in, I freaked out a little, got on the boards, and then I barely could see the rest of the team hurdle in and running this way,” Fanning, a Sioux Falls, South Dakota native, said. “It was fun. It was a blast.”
Allman, from Norway, kept the Quake in the game, saving 49 of the 52 shots on net that he faced. He would routinely glove a well-placed Wild shot like he was catching a bullpen for a baseball pitcher. Gillette’s skaters could only beat Allman, who has a 92.3% save rate this season, when they got in close or deflected a shot.
“Ultimately, we felt like Yellowstone wasn’t beating us, Allman, their goaltender, was beating us,” Wild coach Steve Kruk said. “We knew that just shots at the chest weren’t going to work. We were putting a lot of shots on net, but that wasn’t working. So, we had to get a little more deceptive.”
Wild forward Tyler Kaminski scored the game-tying goal with 56.5 seconds left in the third period. Defenseman Ethan Becker sent a shot on the ice towards the right side of the net where Kaminski was camped out screening Allman with the Wild’s goalie pulled. The puck hit Kaminski’s angled stick and leaped up into the top-right corner of the goal, and the Wild were able to earn an overtime period.
“Take away the goalie’s eyes so he can’t see the puck. That’s the biggest thing when you’re playing a goalie that’s playing really well,” Becker said.
Early in the second period, Hunter Beckett, from Craig, Colorado, cut the deficit in half when he scored to make it 2-1. He received a pass from Fanning in front of the net, and snuck the puck lower-right, narrowly clearing Allman’s left foot for the first Wild goal.
Yellowstone scored first with 8:31 left in the first period when forward Jack Harris sniped the top left corner over Wild goaltender Shane Phillips’ right shoulder for a 1-0 lead.
The Quake scored again directly after a Wild power play and near-goal on the other side of the ice.
Wild forward and Fairbanks, Alaska native Caleb Sanborn shot and hit the inside of the right post right after a Wild power play ended at 1:28. The Spirit Hall Ice Arena erupted in cheers as if it was a goal, but instead, the puck cleanly bounced out and brought on a Quake rush down the ice.
Yellowstone’s Dylan Rumpke made the best of the opportunity and scored on Phillips to give the Quake a 2-0 lead with 1:11 to play in the first frame.
“We had a rough start, and I think after the first period, we just needed to hit the reset button,” Wild forward/defense Jacob Kaminski said.
Phillips ended the game saving 26-28 shots on net.
At the start of the game, U.S. Marine veteran Craig Grossi and his dog Fred, which he brought back from Afghanistan, dropped the ceremonial puck.
The Wild will continue their Military Appreciation Weekend on Saturday in the series finale with the Quake back at Spirit Hall Ice Arena. The auction for the military-themed jerseys that the Wild are wearing for the two games will still be going, and an open skate with the Wild takes place after the game.
“We have to be more deceptive with our shot selection. Shooting at the chest isn’t going to work,” Kruk said about the strategy to beat Allman and the Quake on Saturday. “We’ve got to find a way to commit more net-front for 60 minutes, and shoot for sticks. But good job by our guys, great response.”