WICHITA, Kan. – The opening weekend of the 2018-19 season was a mixed bag for the Wichita Thunder; winning a tight game against Idaho on Friday night, only to come out on Saturday to look completely out of sync and get blanked against the Allen Americans.
Interestingly, it took until February 18 last season for Wichita to have a shootout (against Rapid City at home) and the team wasn’t shutout on the scoreboard until February 11 (against Toledo.) Both happened in the span of 24 hours last weekend.
Like most teams at this level, some questions that existed heading into the season have been answered, others have not, and there are new storylines emerging every day.
Now, let’s see if my cohort, Matthew Will, and I can scrape together some answers that make it seem like we know what we’re talking about and give away some tickets to Friday night’s tilt against the Allen Americans!
What are you guys most looking forward to this season? – Austin Crutcher
Harding: I’m eager to see how the depth head coach Malcolm Cameron boasted about all offseason comes to roost. We all know the callups and injuries are coming, but to me, what separates a playoff contender from a championship contender, is depth (in your parent and affiliated teams, in recruiting contacts, and on the playing roster) plus the ability to weather that storm throughout the season.
Cameron has been forced to rebuild the roster mid-season in each of his previous two years here in Wichita. With the depth the entire Oilers organization currently has (45 players on Oilers contracts in NHL, AHL, & ECHL) there’s a good chance we’ll see several contracted players remain stable in Wichita, with a rotation of players coming and going throughout the season. Combined with the depth accumulated during the offseason, that should help prevent another mid-season roster rebuild. If a rebuild can be avoided and they manage to keep a good core here, then this team has the potential to be one of the top-four in the western conference.
Will: I know I say this a lot, but our goaltending should be exciting. Both rookies are highly regarded by the Oilers organization, who have very high hopes for both of them.
Stuart Skinner showed off in his first game, making a lot of high-quality saves, tracking the puck well, and stopping those penalty shots.
Is this the first time in team history that Wichita has started two rookie goaltenders? – Alex Wiens
Harding: Great question! Actually, this is not the first time Wichita has started the season with two rookie netminders. You have to go all the way back to the inaugural season of 1992-93, when the Thunder’s opening night goaltenders were rookies Yannick Gosselin and Bobby Desjardins. Hat-tip to Thunder general manager and resident historian Joel Lomurno for the answer.
Will: Gosselin played 10 games with a 6.43 GAA and a measly .860 SV%. Desjardins recorded 52 games, with a 4.63 GAA and a .895 SV%. I do believe the two current tendys should have better stats than those two in 1992.
What will the game plan be for Allen on Friday? – @F3rdanhl on Twitter
Harding: During both games of opening weekend, Wichita tried to make the offense too complicated and sold out to make the big hit at times. It doesn’t help that there were three players added to the roster 30 hours before the season opener last week, so practice time before was non-existent. That excuse, however, goes out the door this weekend. I would expect to see the Thunder play much tighter on defense and have a much better flow offensively Friday night.
Also, the power-play has to get going for Wichita to have success. Going 0-for-7 on the man-advantage, including 0-for-4 in the opening period, will take the wind out of your sails. Allen takes a lot of penalties, and with Wichita’s offensive firepower, there is no excuse why they shouldn’t make them pay.
Will: There are three areas for Wichita to improve upon for Friday:
LIMIT THE TURNOVERS: You can not score goals when you turn the puck over in between the blue lines. You also can not play defense when the play is behind your back. The key for Wichita is to recover when turning the puck over. If you aren’t handling the puck well, calm down and find a way to connect passes. On Saturday, they got upset with themselves and tried passing with significantly more power.
POWERPLAY: 0-for-11. The Thunder have had the man advantage 11 times this season, six of which were full 2 minute plays. The PP has to connect.
GOALTENDING: Skinner needs to do his thing and be a big presence in net and the defense needs to play tighter in front of Skinner and Wells.
The Wichita Thunder is the only professional sports team in town and is coming off a great season. What will it take for the city to truly adopt it as their own? – @slices_akimbo on Twitter
Harding: This is a tough question and it really takes more than just a paragraph or two to explain, but I’m going to give a TL;DR version anyway.
There are three problems that hamper the Thunder from getting traction: One, Wichita State owns the sports market in Wichita from the time the first ball is tipped-off in late October until the last baseball out in May. Additionally, the team gets next to no media run in the market, outside of The Sin Bin, of course. Finally, ticket prices are high for the market, with it costing a family of four $92 in tickets to sit on the ends of the arena, and the cost jumps to roughly $125 if that family gets concessions.
I will say this, though, you don’t exist 27 seasons without being adopted by some percentage of the population in your market. But, with any minor league sports franchise, there is always something that could be done better. For me, that thing is community outreach. While Jeremy Beaudry won the league’s community service award in 2017-18, there really wasn’t a lot of pub about what he and the team did in the community. I think having a designated community relations person who follows the team around while they are out in schools, at hospitals, etc, would go a long way toward helping bring fans to games. Name recognition is, and always has been, the name of the game.
Will: This might seem cliché or not surprising to hear but put simply, they need a Kelly Cup run. Last season was big for the Thunder, making the playoffs for the first time since joining the ECHL. But to get the entire area behind them, I think they need to win the mountain division in the playoffs. A conference finals berth could get people out for a game or two.
Also, as Harding stated, money is a bit of an issue. Tickets are so expensive. Even for two people, you’re looking at up to $50-60 depending on where you sit. It is hard to bring kids and expose them to the game when prices are that steep.
On average, how many hockey sticks does the team go through each season? [email protected] on Twitter
Harding: For the answer to this one, we go back to Thunder general manager Joel Lomurno. He says the number of sticks a team goes through each season varies, but Wichita went through 350 sticks last season.
Through the ECHL’s deal with CCM, the team gets about 310 sticks each season and if the team has to purchase them, they cost about $90 each. The composite sticks (like the players use) will likely cost you a lot more than that if you were to buy them from a pro shop, however.
Will: While Harding is looked into this, I’m going to guess a firm 305 sticks a season. 20ish players using 18-23 sticks a year. I’m probably nowhere close, but hey, why not?
Allen Americans — great team or the greatest team? [email protected] on Twitter
Harding: It wouldn’t be something Thunder-related if we didn’t hear from “AmericansMan.” Since this is an Allen question, I’ll answer the question as best as I can.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that both the Allen Americans and Kansas City Mavericks are in their tenth anniversary seasons. Congrats to both organizations for making it to this point in their histories.
Each organization is great in their own way; Kansas City has a relationship with their fanbase few organizations can duplicate; while Allen has been great on the ice, winning four-straight titles.
Having said that, I maintain, as I did in June 2016 after Allen won their fourth straight league title, that what the Americans did in that run will likely not be repeated or beat for a long time. It was on the level with the Montreal Canadiens run in the 1950s. Further, it’s my contention the ECHL did Allen a disservice by not recognizing their two Central Hockey League titles, especially after the league had been “absorbed” (it wasn’t a merger) into the ECHL in October 2014.
Of course, Kansas City tried to duplicate Allen’s success with the hire of Richard Matvichuk, but that ended with the Mavs missing the playoffs in his first season; winning a Brabham Cup and a second-round exit the next season.
So, if you’re one to compare KC and Allen, the scales lean heavily toward Allen’s side of the ledger.
Why are you the GOAT (greatest of all-time,) Matthew? – @F3rdanhl on Twitter
Will: You guys have no idea, Harding is amazing. This man puts so much into this and takes almost no credit. Not only would Sin Bin Thunder not be where it is today but the entire The Sin Bin brand would not be where it is. Matthew has devoted a lot of hours to this to help every single one of you enjoy the game, follow your team, and be in the loop on a consistent basis. He has also helped a lot of people like myself do the greatest job on earth, cover sports from every angle.
Harding: Seriously, who paid these guys?
Before I close the mailbag for this month, congrats to @F3rdanhl, who won the tickets to tomorrow night’s contest against the Allen Americans!
Thanks for all the questions and for taking the time to read the article & visiting our website. We’ll do this again next month!