WICHITA, KS – There are times during a season when a team goes through “gut checks,” and the Wichita Thunder are about to start one of them.
The defending Kelly Cup champion Allen Americans come to town tonight for the first of a two-game weekend set. The teams will meet six times this month. Since the Americans and Thunder came to the ECHL, the matchup has not resembled anything close to the built up “rivalry,” with Allen possessing a record of 22-2-3-3 against Wichita and a 13-0-0-0 record against the Thunder last season.
To complicate matters, the team lost Alexis Loiseau earlier this week after being called up to Binghamton earlier this week. Loiseau joins Jack Rodewald, Alex Krushelyski, Macoy Erkamps, Gabriel Gagne, and Chris Rumble who are up with the AHL Senators.
Loiseau has been the heart and soul of the Thunder offense for roughly the last month when Rodewald and Krushelnyski were recalled to Southern New York. Prior to his call-up, he was on a six-game point streak where he collected eight points and climbed up to 12th in the league scoring race. Loiseau’s impact will felt all over the ice — he was Cameron’s “go to” guy in almost every situation — but it will likely be felt most on the power play, where he leads the club with five power play points.
In addition, the team will be without the services of rookie defenseman Nick Trecapelli, who was banged up in Rapid City and placed on reserve.
All of these losses put the onus squarely on Malcolm Cameron and the depth he recruited during the offseason. Louick Marcotte showed signs of coming out of a slump last weekend in Rapid City, but for the Thunder to succeed against the Americans, they will need some offensive production from players like Vincent Dunn, Blake Tatchell, Mitch Holmberg, and Matt DeBlouw. Cameron has said in the past that “these guys aren’t rookies anymore,” now is the time for these players to prove it.
If there is any sign of help coming, it may come in the form of two-time Kelly Cup Champion Vincent Arseneau, who may come off the IR and play this weekend against his former team. Arseneau will help open up space for some of the smaller players to get around the ice without obstruction, plus he has some offensive touch, with 51 points in 87 regular-season games.
Also, it is encouraging that the Thunder is playing somewhat tighter defensively. After spotting Rapid two goals in the first period last Friday night, the defense tightened up and only allowed 15 shots in the game’s final 40-plus minutes. The defense did not allow more than 40 shots last weekend, something that was a huge problem for the team during the month of November.
This is a huge stretch for Wichita if they have any ambitions for the Kelly Cup playoffs. You cannot clinch a position right now, but you can cost yourself one. The Thunder are in the midst of a four-game home losing streak and cannot afford to give any more games away on INTRUST Bank Arena ice. Having Allen in your building for five of six games this month is a colossal advantage for this young club.
The gut check starts at 7:05.