CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – In one of the most exciting games in team history, the Corpus Christi IceRays rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the third period to defeat the division-leading Amarillo Bulls 5-4 via shootout on Stars & Stripes Night in front of 4,495 fans Saturday at American Bank Center. Blake Bennett recorded a natural hat trick, scoring three times in a span of 8:20 late in the third period to tie the game, while also notching the shootout-winning goal.
All three third-period goals scored by Bennett were registered while netminder Sam Best was pulled by head coach Ryan Cruthers in favor of an extra attacker. Best initially came to the bench with 11:05 remaining in regulation.
Santeri Hartikainen (1+1) and Jake Stella (0+2) each registered a pair of points in the win. Best made 38 saves.
The IceRays (7-8-1-0, 15 pts.) and Bulls (12-3-1-2, 27 pts.) complete the three-game weekend series with a rubber match at 3:05 PM Sunday afternoon at American Bank Center.
Thanks to a give-and-go goal completed by Cooper Fensterstock at 8:25 of the first period, and a goal from Logan Jenuwine at 7:22 of the second period, the Bulls were able to jump out to a 2-0 lead. However, the IceRays cut the visitors’ lead in half before the second intermission. A terrific passing sequence started by Ryan Willett and Aleksi Peltonen was completed by a goal from Hartikainen with 7:14 remaining in the second period.
Amarillo picked up momentum early in the third period, going back up by a pair thanks to goals scored in front of the net by Ryan Lautenbach (1:53) and Aaron Swanson (7:36).
Best came to the bench at the 8:55 mark of the third period, and 1:28 later, Bennett started the comeback by cashing in on a return feed from Kyle Moore at 10:23. Bennett (Grand Island, N.Y.) then
scored with a shot from the top of the right circle with 2:47 remaining to pull the IceRays back within a goal. Then with 1:17 left on the clock, Hartikainen fed the puck from behind the goal line to Bennett, who tied the game to force overtime.
Following a scoreless, five-minute overtime session, the game went to a three-round shootout. Peltonen (1st round) and Bennett (3rd round) scored for the IceRays, and Best denied Amarillo’s Trey Bagwell (2nd round) and Alex Peterson (3rd round), completing the sensational comeback.
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