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Thunder take two wins out of deja vu weekend

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Benjamin Breault continued his point scoring streak to seven games alongside his line-mate Jessyko Bernard to help the Perth Thunder clinch a tough series at home against the leagues undefeated Melbourne side.

Paul Furness | Perth Thunder

The 28-year-old Breault, from Pembroke, Ontario just west of Ottawa has found his feet after coming to join the Thunder organisation for the first time this season.

With his eyes on a 50 point season, the veteran Canadian tallied six points over a weekend that saw the Thunder take on the league’s most potent offensive line-up in a packed Perth Ice Arena.

The series was already set up to be a physical affair, and neither team was going to disappoint their fans as both squads forechecked heavily and finished every hit to settle into the tight matchup.

After the home squad killed off an early penalty, their import line went to work on the powerplay and Michael Dorr netted the team’s first goal of the weekend to give them the lead at 5:49 of the first.

This gave the Thunder the boost they needed as the Ice continued to battle in front of the league’s top goaltender in Thomas Heemskerk (GA 2.60 S% .932).

With less than a minute remaining in the opening stanza of this tightly contested matchup, Melbourne import Chris Yule was able to snatch his 6th goal of the season and level the scores headed into the second period.

The second started in a similar way as the first, with both teams battling hard in the corners to come up with the puck.

The Thunder struggled at times to get through the neutral zone, as the Ice’s defensive units looked to shut down the potent Thunder import line.

However the Thunder's international trio was able to rush into the attacking zone as a unit, and it was Breault who beat Jaden Pine-Murphy for his first of the weekend to take the lead for the second time at (2:19) of the second period.

At that point, the thunder began to run away with the momentum as the physical play picked up and the animosity between both teams began to build.

Both teams made it clear that they wanted to beat the other, and the rivalry between the two was evident as the second period continued.

Jessyko Bernard was next to add to the scoreboard, netting a big goal on the rush and giving his team a two goal lead nearing the halfway point of the first game.

After roughing minors were awarded to both teams, the resulting four on four hockey meant the pace of the game began to pick up as the two squads exchanged chances at either end, and both teams hunted for the next goal in the game.

A three goal lead would make a comeback hard for the Melbourne squad, who knew if they could score one, the game was still in reach.

This desperation gave the Ice the boost they needed, and after getting outworked by the home team, they were able to squeeze back to within one goal of the Thunder with less than five minutes to go in the second.

However, a late penalty on the Ice for hooking with less than a minute to go gave the Thunder the opportunity they were looking for, and Swedish Defenseman Daniel Goransson capitalised on this chance to take a late two goal lead heading into the final period.

The final period in the first of two games over the weekend saw the Melbourne Ice outshoot the Home squad (21-7), and Heemskerk was forced to make up for several lapses in his teams otherwise solid defensive play.

It was the Ice at this point who had the momentum in their favour for the majority of the final period, and at (8:38) they got back within a goal of the thunder after forward Thomas Powell was able to beat Heemskerk for the 3rd time in the game.

With the crowd on the edge of their seats, the Ice we’re able to level the scores with Jason Baclig getting his second of the night to take the game to a shootout following regulation.

The Thunder were the eventual victors after the shootout provided as much excitement as the play in regulation had.

Kieran Webster tallied the winning goal of the shootout after a controversial stumble from the rookie gave everyone in the packed ice Arena something to cheer about.

"The Melbourne Ice stepped up and whacked a couple in and took the game to the wire," Thunder coach Dave Kenway said following the game. "(The boys) dropped their heads a little bit at times, [but] they will learn from that."

Melbourne coach Brent Laver praised his team’s effort, and predicted a better outcome in the game the following day.

"I think it’s more of the same, a bounce of the puck here or a play there and it could go either way again," Laver said. "The two teams have been pretty evenly matched the last few years now, so if we can take some more points tomorrow we’ll be stoked."

The second game would be a closely mirrored affair to the one played twenty-four hours earlier.

The first period of the second matchup between the leagues best was a closely fought battle, with both teams playing a physical game to set the pace. Heemskerk continued to be solid in front for the Thunder, and he was forced to make several big saves early to keep his side level with their Melbourne rivals.

Both teams exchanged chances to start the second game, but the goaltenders were able to keep the scores level heading into the second period.

With the top of the table now on the line, the Thunder came out with speed, and it was Breault again who would give the Perth squad the game’s first goal as he netted his first of the game and third of the weekend whilst his team was shorthanded with just over five minutes of the second now ticked off the clock.

His second tally of the night came only four minutes later on the powerplay, which was an effective asset (43%) over the weekend.

With the Ice on their heels again, they rallied behind their top forwards to bring the team back within reach of a win after getting goals from Captain Lliam Webster at (11:23) of the second and a pair of goals, including the go ahead goal from another Ottawa native Matt Armstrong with less than a minute to go in the second to give his team the lead.

The Third period began in a similar fashion to the one in the previous game. With the momentum mostly in favour of the Ice, who were able to keep firing shots at Heemskerk who had to continue to show why he was the league’s top goaltender.

Although the Ice at times dominated the play, outshooting their opponents (19-9) in the final period, it was the Thunder who capitalised on their chances with two late goals coming from Jessyko Bernard who tied it at (13:59) of the third, and Dorr who gave the Thunder the lead only minutes later.

Although the Thunder had taken a one goal lead with less than five minutes to go in the final period, the Ice were not going to give up their spot on the top easily as they rushed up the ice 14 seconds later to level the scores again with three minutes to go.

The two teams went up and down the ice, trading chances at either end before settling regulation with the scores level at four a piece.

In a game that almost mirrored the one twenty four hours before hand, the shootout went in favour of the home team, who were able to secure a game winning goal from Michael Dorr, whilst Heemskerk stayed solid at the other end to deny the cross state rivals a chance at securing a win heading home that night.

Although the shootout losses allowed the Ice to maintain their top of the ladder spot, the Perth Thunder finished the weekend having proven that they are one of the teams to compete with this season. And the two close games were a good look at was has already been predicted as a possible Goodall cup final matchup.

"Coming to Perth and playing the Thunder is always tough," Ice Assistant Coach Steve Laforet said. "They are a good team, a big team with some good imports. We can’t really say much about our penalty kill and power play. The way that the Thunder boys played, they really stepped up and we’ll just review the games, see where we went wrong and fix our mistakes."

The Perth Thunder however will look to continue their winning streak beyond a record setting eight wins, as they move on to face a tough Physical side in the Sydney Icedogs in hopes of continuing the climb towards the League’s top spot.