The fast start the Williamsport Outlaws were hoping for has eluded them in their first two games, as two blowout losses are the only things the team has to show just two games into the season.
But, like any growing franchise, Williamsport has continued to stay positive, and its home crowd appeared just as optimistic.
And if that wasn't enough, three goals, two fights and a much better showing by the Outlaws were. Rob Sich won a brawl in the first period and Martin Moucha gave Williamsport a one-goal advantage that lasted for most of the night.
As good as the start was for the Outlaws, it's going to be the last 10 minutes that swim through their heads.
Anthony Pisano tied the game late to force overtime, and Tom Tilla gave the Outlaws their third loss in as many days as Danbury won, 4-3, at Airmen Pond at Bowman Field.
"We played an outstanding two periods. It was the best hockey we've played all season," Williamsport Outlaws coach Chris Firriolo said. "This is a team that hasn't had a lot of practice time and I think we are starting to gel."
The loss, Williamsport's second consecutive at home, was especially difficult to deal with after Danbury handed the Outlaws a 5-2 loss Thursday in Danbury. The Outlaws beat Danbury to win last season's league title. Firriolo also coached Danbury before joining the Outlaws last season.
"Danbury had no business beating us, we're a better hockey team than they are," Firriolo said. "We played tough, team tough, but at the end we got passive trying to protect at two-goal lead."
Williamsport opened with the look of a team in need of a win. Rob Sich got the night started when he hammered Andrew J. Willock, later taking him to the ground and pummeling him in the game's first fight. The tussle cost Sich five minutes in the box, but fired up the Outlaws, who posted nine first-period shots.
"That's what Sichy does," defenseman Chris McNeill said of Rob Sich, who has scored and goal and posted an assists in three games with the Outlaws. "He scores goals and works hard. His fight tonight did set the tone. Everyone got fired up, because he's a goal scorer, and when you see a goal scorer do that it fires everybody up."
Moments after Sich energized the crowd with what basically measured up as a knockout, McNeill got into the action by taking down a Danbury player and punching him on the ground. The resulting penalty did little to damper the Outlaws spirits as the penalty kill limited Danbury to just two shots over the five-minute stretch. McNeill, who is quickly becoming a fan favorite, notched his second fight of the night when he pulled Danbury defenseman, Anthony Pisano, away from the Outlaws goal for a center ice tussle.
"In means a lot, especially being in a new city, because you want the crowd behind you," McNeill said of the crowd which cheered his return after the fight. "My team, though, means the world to me, but having the crowd with you is a plus. It's our seventh man out there on the ice. And hearing them tonight is what got us fired up."
The Outlaws killed off three Danbury penalties in the first period, while Martin Moucha slid a near post shot past Mike Brown for a, 1-0 Williamsport advantage.
It was Williamsport's most complete period since opening play Wednesday against Dayton with a 5-2 loss. And the momentum from a small, but just as energetic crowd as the season-opener, carried over as Williamsport continued to push Danbury around the ice.
"These guys played their butts off for the first 40 minutes," Firriolo said. "I told them in the locker room the most important 20 minutes were coming up in the third period. The first win is always the toughest to get"
The elevated level of play by Williamsport got the spirited crowd going, which led to a Matthew Smyth goal to give the Outlaws a two-goal advantage at the 18:07 mark of the second period.
Smyth steadied the puck once it was on his stick and sent a screaming shot past the keeper to the upper right corner of the goal. As good as the opening goal was, the second was even better for the crowd.
"That was the best 40 minutes of hockey we've played so far," McNeill said. "The little things are starting to come together."
With the team's confidence soaring, it was surprising to see them play a much more defensive style throughout the third period. And, holding a 3-1 lead, Williamsport let two goals slip in to send the game into overtime.
Cody Ayers got the Whalers rolling when he poked a shot through the defense to pull them within in a goal of tying. And, despite a strong stand by the Outlaws, Anthony Pisano, McNeill's sparing partner in the second period, slid a shot by Mike Delorenzo for the game-tying goal.
Delorenzo stopped 42 shots in the contest, including 18 through the final period and overtime.
Unfortunately, the final shot on goal will be the one stuck in the Outlaws' head as they hit the road for a stretch until next Thursday's game against Cap Cod.
"The overtime goal was a bad goal," Firriolo said. "It should have never gone in the net, but we should never have got to overtime."