It wasn’t a good omen when the championship banner that was supposed to be raised to the rafters Friday night for the Carolina Thunderbirds’ historic season didn’t quite make it to the top of the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex.
“There was a problem with the mechanism that was supposed to raise the banner,” said Jimmy Milliken, the Thunderbirds general manager, “so it never got up there.”
The banner that signified the Federal Prospects Hockey League championship from last season will be raised tonight, according to Milliken.
And that banner snafu was just the beginning. The Thunderbirds lost 3-2 to the Danbury Hat Tricks in their home opener. Carolina was in good shape leading 2-0, but the Hat Tricks, an expansion team in the FPHL, picked up their first victory in franchise history.
The Hat Tricks and Thunderbirds will play again at 6 p.m. today.
In front of a packed house of 3,300, the Thunderbirds, and their rabid fans, were supposed to celebrate their home opener and tie it to last season’s historic run.
Before the game, Jay Kenney of the Thunderbirds was excited about what the night was supposed to be.
“This city deserves all of this because what had it been, 30 years since the last hockey championship?” Jay Kenney said before the game. “This is an awesome night because of what we accomplished last year, but it’s also about what’s ahead.”
Coach Andre Niec of the Thunderbirds said before the game it was a difficult night, and it proved to be just that.
“It’s a different season and you have to bring in new guys to get used to the system, but I think we are on the right track,” Niec said. “We still have a couple of more weeks until I’m satisfied so we have to get to the level where I expect us.”
The Thunderbirds (4-1) led 2-0 in the first period after Daniel Martin and George Holt scored. Michael Bunn and Konner Haas were credited with assists on Martin’s goal, and Jo Osaka got the assist on Holt’s goal.
But the Hat Tricks scored in the second period on an unassisted goal from Jonny Ruiz. They tied the game 2-2 when Matyas Kasek scored with just 12 seconds left in the period with assists going to Cory Anderson and Gordy Bonnel.
The only goal in the third period was scored by Nicola Levesque of the Hat Tricks to make it 3-2.
Late in the third period, it looked like the Thunderbirds had scored but an official waved off the goal. Danbury goalie Dillon Kelley made 45 saves while his counterpart, Henry Dill, made 40 saves for the Thunderbirds.
It was Dill’s first loss of the season.
Notes: Milliken said that at 5 p.m. there were only 200 tickets left to complete the sellout, and he expected those tickets to be sold pretty quickly…. Dominik Fejt of the Thunderbirds served his third game of a five-game suspension on Friday night….Also missing from the lineup was forward David Nippard as well as Jiri Pargac, who is battling an injury…. This year, the FPHL has 10 teams split up into Eastern and Western divisions. Before Friday’s games the Thunderbirds were tied with Danville (Ill.) for first place with 4-0 records.