It took all of three periods and overtime for Zach Aston-Reese to notice something peculiar with Springfield Thunderbirds goaltender Michael Hutchinson.
Even as Aston-Reese scored a goal in the first period and came close to tallying a second at the end of overtime, it wasn’t until he came out for the shootout that he took notice of Hutchinson.
“I came out and realized he was reverse. I didn’t know the whole game that he was catching with his opposite hand,” Aston-Reese said.
So during his shootout attempt, what did Aston-Reese do? He went five-hole for the only goal in the shootout to give the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins a 3-2 win in the 20th season opener. Ethan Prow scored the first goal of the season and Anthony Peters stopped 30 shots for the win.
Things erupted right off the start as the Thunderbirds struck just 36 seconds into the opening period. Thomas Di Pauli attempted to pass the puck behind him, but Springfield’s Paul Thompson picked it up and fired a shot before Peters was ready.
The goal gave the Thunderbirds a 1-0 lead, but it was short-lived. With less than two minutes expired in the period, Anthony Angello won an offensive zone faceoff back to Prow on the point, who promptly launched a long wrist shot into the net for a 1-1 tie.
Aston-Reese made it 2-1 when he flipped the puck over goaltender Hutchinson during a two-on-one rush to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
After both teams skated penalty-free for the first nine minutes, they totalled 46 penalty minutes in the second half of the period. Zach Trotman got it started with a fight against Thompson and Garrett Wilson kept it going when he dropped the gloves with Joel Lowry.
Along with numerous minor penalties along the way, the Penguins had three power play chances but couldn’t connect.
“From both sides it was an emotional first game of the season,” Aston-Reese said. “It’s nice to see guys sticking up for each other out there. Both teams responded how they should.”
The Penguins finished 0-4 on the power play after posting the second-worst percentage in the American Hockey League last season. Still, head coach Clark Donatelli said it’s too early to be concerned.
“We definitely have to work at it, but I like that we’re getting pucks through. We’ll continue to tweak it, but at least we’re getting some shots,” he said.
The Thunderbirds, however, found power play success when Thompson scored his second of the game after his shot fluttered over Peters.
Thompson’s goal tied the game, 2-2
The Penguins had a chance to take the lead when they went on the power play for fourth time with less than four minutes left, but they were unable to generate any chances.
After a scoreless overtime where Aston-Reese just missed with a second left, he opened the shootout with a goal that would stand as the game-winner.
“It was a spirited hockey game. A great one to start off with,” Donatelli said. “I didn’t like the way it started, but I liked the response that we bounced right back.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky