Winston-Salem has another championship hockey team.
The Carolina Thunderbirds beat the Elmira Enforcers 4-3 in overtime on Saturday night at First Arena in Elmira, New York.
Jan Salak’s tip-in, power-play goal 35 seconds into the overtime was the difference as the Thunderbirds won the series 3-1. Salak’s goal came after a shot from team captain Josh Pietrantonio, who was credited with an assist.
It’s the first hockey title for Winston-Salem since the 1988-89 season when the old Carolina Thunderbirds won the East Coast Hockey League. This time, in just their second season in the Federal Hockey League, the Thunderbirds won the Commissioner’s Cup to complete a dominating season.
After the game-winning goal, radio announcer Zak DeBeaussaert said: “The Thunderbirds are the Federal Hockey League champions.”
Salak said: "This is great and we said earlier in the game we would win and we did."
Petr Panacek’s power-play goal midway through the third period gave the Thunderbirds a 3-2 lead, but Nathan Pelligra scored with 4:39 left in the game to tie it at 3. On Panacek’s goal, assists were credited to Dominik Felt and Joe Cangelosi.
Trailing 2-1 to start the third period Salak scored 13 seconds in to tie the game for the Thunderbirds at 2-2. Getting the assist on the goal was Beau Walker.
Unlike in Friday’s 7-2 loss to the Enforcers, the Thunderbirds came out much better in the first period. The Thunderbirds outshot the Enforcers 12-2 in the first period.
At the 5:46 mark of the first period the Thunderbirds grabbed the 1-0 lead as Walker, who was signed just before the playoffs, scored his fourth goal of the playoffs. Assists were credited Karel Drahorad and Pietrantonio.
Early in the second period it was Pietrantonio who was called for a two-minute roughing penalty and Kyle Stevens made the Thunderbirds pay. His shot went past goalie Christian Pavlas to tie the game at 1-1.
A little later the Enforcers scored again to make it 2-1 as Mitch Atkins scored with assists going to Nathan Pelligra and Cameron Yarwood.
The Enforcers led 2-1 after two periods but the Thunderbirds dominated in shots on goal. After two periods the Thunderbirds led 27-11 in shots on goal but goalie Nick Niedert made several outstanding saves.
The Thunderbirds dominated play outshooting the Enforcers 47-20. Goalie Christian Pavlas of the Thunderbirds picked up the win as he made 17 saves.
Michael Bunn was named the MVP of the Federal Hockey League playoffs.
Walker gave credit to Coach Andre Niec for bringing him back to the team right before the playoffs.
"I have to thank Coach Niec for letting me come back to help and we knew we would win," Walker said.
Scott Brand, the general manager of the Thunderbirds, said a celebration will held at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.