WICHITA, KS – It has been an offseason full of change for the Thunder, with the team changing National Hockey League affiliations and only bringing four players back from the 2016-17 season.
The two-time Central Hockey League (CHL) champions (1994 & 1995) have not made the playoffs in either the CHL or ECHL since their game 7 defeat to the Allen Americans on May 11, 2013 — a span of 1,615 days or 39,660 hours.
Head Coach: Malcolm Cameron — Tenth season as ECHL head coach, second with the Wichita Thunder. His career coaching record is 338-216-73, but 34-34 in the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Last Season: After getting off to a 7-3 start, the wheels came off the bus for Wichita in 2016-17. The roster was decimated by call-ups, injuries, and a horrible defense. The Thunder allowed 3.86 goals per game, six or more goals 12 times and nine goals twice (Dec 30 vs. Allen, Jan. 28 vs. Colorado.)
It has been another offseason of change in Wichita. Cameron only held over five players from last season’s team as he seeks the right group of guys who can get him back to the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Also, new this season is an affiliation with the Edmonton Oilers, who sent three to Wichita earlier this week.
- #WICtoEDM — The Wichita Thunder have a new affiliation with the Edmonton Oilers, moving away from the Ottawa Senators after a tumultuous arrangement last season.
- #NewTendys — The men patrolling the Thunder net will be different this season. Joel Rumpel will get the start opening night, after playing in just eight games last season with the Cincinnati Cyclones. Joining Rumpel in between the pipes will be Oilers prospect Shane Starrett, who went 26-6-4 with a 1.99 goals against average in 37 games last season at the Air Force Academy.
- #VetCore — Cameron made it a priority to sign a core group of guys who would be immune to call-ups this season. The Thunder coach has said he plans to go with three veterans on the roster at the start of the season and add a fourth as needed during the season.
- Often the difference between a playoff team and one that disbands in early April comes down to games decided by one goal. Despite everything the Thunder went through last season, the Thunder had a 6-7-6-1 record in 20 one-goal games. For the Thunder to be a playoff team in 2017-18, that fortune has to change.
- Last year’s Thunder squad was young, but had quite a bit of experience in minor league hockey; with an average age of 24.3 years old and a combined 1,698 games played in the American Hockey League. This year’s club is roughly a half-year older, with 136 games played at the NHL level and 1,432 games played in the American Hockey League. Will the experience pay off to more wins?
- Dyson Stevenson — The forward/defenseman was acquired by the Thunder to complete the March 8 trade for Randy Cure. Stevenson will reunite with Cameron, who was his coach in Regina of the Western Hockey League. In 2013-14, he had a career year, recording 76 points (38g, 38a) and 121 penalty minutes.
- Zach O’Brien — After being signed in early January, O’Brien performed well for the Thunder in the last half of the 2016-17 season, collecting 27 points (9G, 18A) in 32 games. O’Brien’s playmaking abilities will be called upon early and often this season.
- Dana Tyrell — The second-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning is starting his comeback in Wichita and has impressed during training camp. In several instances during camp, he has been the first to loose pucks and is always willing to bang bodies in the corner.
Blocked and Reported
- Justin Crandall — The forward Wichita acquired from Reading on August 3 is playing in Denmark with former Thunder player Alexis Loiseau.
- Ian Lowe — The former Thunder Captain was not protected or re-signed by the organization. It’s not clear if Lowe will come out of retirement to play during the 2017-18 season.
- Vincent Arseneau — The prize acquisition of the 2016 offseason only played 24 games in a Thunder uniform last season. He returned to familiar climes with the Allen Americans.
With Wichita being in a tough western conference, it’s hard to see them getting more than 35 wins. It’s likely to be another early offseason.
What Say You?
Let us know how you think the Thunder will do this season?