WICHITA, KS – With the winter wheat harvest done, grass turning the traditional summer sun-baked hue of brown, and much of Kansas baking under 100-plus degree weather, it is natural to look at the calendar and wish for Santa Claus to shimmy down the chimney.
For those in love with Christmas; 117 days left until Black Friday, 119 days until Cyber Monday, 148 days left until Christmas (or 20 weeks if that helps you count it down quicker.)
But for hockey fans, the countdown is much shorter — just 76 days — until the 26th season of Wichita Thunder hockey gets going.
With yet another summer of golf games in progress, player signings have come fast and furious, but most importantly, the club made a significant change in affiliation.
Gone, at least in a primary role, is the Ottawa Senators, who were largely absent in both players & team representation from Wichita last season. At the time of this article, Ottawa still does not have a primary ECHL player development partner in place for the 2017-18 season, but they will continue to serve as an unofficial partner for the Thunder this season.
Filling Ottawa’s stead is the Edmonton Oilers, who feature one of the deeper farm systems in hockey. While the number of players to come to Wichita cannot be known with any certainty this far out, we believe the number is somewhere around six and will likely come in the form of three forwards, two defensemen, and a goalie. Head coach Malcolm Cameron has also told The Sin Bin Ottawa will be chipping in with at least a goaltender.
While the affiliation news is good, it got me to thinking, what could Thunder fans possibly want from this ownership and franchise if Christmas came in July?
“Just Win, Baby”
The Thunder currently have a slogan contest going, but the moniker “Just Win, Baby,” made famous by the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, seems most apropos. It has been 1,541 days since the Wichita Thunder have played a playoff game of any kind (Saturday, May 11, 2013,) the longest streak in franchise history. In that time, the Thunder have compiled a record of 98-146-19-21 (.381 pts pct) and have only finished above .500 once (2013-14). It is safe to say that the last four seasons have been dismal for the Thunder franchise and the fan base is as vociferous as ever.
Since he got off the plane in Wichita on May 18, 2016, all Malcolm Cameron has done is boasted about the reclamation projects he had in Long Beach, CA and Beaumont, TX. Thunder fans are waiting to see if their team will be the third such project on Cameron’s resume.
Time and patience are quickly running thin.
Free Agent Signings with Panache
Is it me or have the free agent signings (except for Dyson Stevenson) announced by the Thunder this summer been a 55-gallon drum of “meh”? If I were a fan, these signings do nothing for me. There’s no pop to them, and they wouldn’t get me excited for the coming season. Thunder fans had to wait until hours before the season started last year to find out who would be on the opening night roster, and it’s likely to happen that way again this year.
That said, fans should realize the business component to this. The players take the month of July to sit on their qualifying offers, while their agents work to get them American Hockey League deals. Ultimately, there may be a big name or two announced as free agent signings in Wichita, but my guess is that we will be waiting until the week of the season opener for the real fireworks.
Revive Rivalries with Allen & Tulsa
A by-product of the losing era of Thunder hockey has meant that Allen & Tulsa have run roughshod over the Thunder. Since the move to the ECHL, Wichita is a combined 20-49-6-10 against their purported “rivals.” With about 28 percent of the Thunder’s schedule played against Allen & Tulsa, it’s imperative that the Thunder gets off the mat and win the season series against the Americans & Oilers this coming season. Reviving the rivalry with those two clubs, plus the continued series with Kansas City, will do wonders for getting people back to watching Thunder hockey.
Keep the Product Fresh
This topic has long been a point of contention for me, but the packaging of ads & giveaways during Thunder games inside INTRUST Bank Arena needs considerable work. From game one to 72, the script remains the same “Welcome back from another great season…,” no in-game host and contests that largely fall flat.
The upshot is that this season, the team will have a new music director and public address announcer, so hopefully, this will be a chance for the team to hit the refresh button and update the in-game packaging regularly through the season.
What are some of the things on your list? Hit me up @SinBinThunder on Twitter and let me know!