WICHITA, KS – When you look at the ECHL standings, there are the usual suspects you expect to see at the top; Florida, South Carolina, Colorado, Allen, Toledo to name a few. But every year, there is a team or two that “crashes the party.”
This year’s version of “standings crashers” are the Wichita Thunder, who at 5-0-0, are off to their second-best start in franchise history (8-0-0 in 2004-05). While it is still early, the returns from this year’s team compared to the corps that started 7-3 last season, are better.
The offense was a question mark heading into the season for Wichita, especially in the absence of Justin Crandall, who bailed for Denmark after his acquisition from the Reading Royals. For now, however, the question about the offense appears to be muted thanks to the line of Kyle Platzer–Matt DeBlouw–Zach O’Brien who have combined for 19 points (9G, 10 A) in the first five games. Platzer, the reigning ECHL Player of the Week, seems to have found his offensive mojo in Wichita after struggling to produce offense (28 pts in 103 games) in the American Hockey League. At the start of play Friday, Platzer is second in league scoring with nine points (5G, 4A) in five games.
While the top line is carrying the water offensively for Wichita, the team is still getting contributions from those down the depth chart. Travis Ewanyk has lit the lamp three times, while Mark MacMillan has three points (2G, 1A) in five games. After missing the first weekend of the season, Guillaume Asselin has collected three helpers in three games for the Thunder. Overall, 18 players have gotten on the scoresheet for the Thunder, compared to 11 in the same number of games last season.
Defensively, it would appear the “Charmin defense” of last season is gone. The Thunder defense is in the middle of the pack in the ECHL, allowing 32.7 shots per game (for reference, Greenville allows the most at 44 shots per game through four games). More to the point, head coach Malcolm Cameron has called on Marc-Olivier Crevier-Morin and Guillaume Lepine in key situations early this season, and the pair has emerged as the team’s “shutdown” pair. In fact, of the ten goals allowed by the team this season, the Crevier-Morin/Lepine pairing have only been on the ice together for just two goals.
Jeremy Beaudry and Travis Brown have emerged as offensive defensemen, making the loss of Jamie Doornbosch – currently on a call-up to Bakersfield – a little easier to take. Beaudry is tied for the ECHL lead among defensemen with 20 shots, while Brown leads the team with three power-play assists.
In net, the duo of Joel Rumpel and Shane Starrett have been stellar. The pair has combined for a 1.97 goals against average and a .939 save percentage through five games.
Wichita has not trailed at the end of any period this season and is 4-0-0 when scoring first. Additionally, the Thunder have done a great job of piling up points against teams who were at their level or below last season; something playoff teams must do.
Still, there is work to be done with this club.
The power play has shown signs of coming around after a 0-for-10 start the season, by going 3-for-10 in the last two games. Looking back at the sixteen playoff teams last season, 10 of the 16 teams finished the season in the top half of the league in power play efficiency. If Wichita has eyes on the playoffs this season, this should be a goal of theirs moving forward.
Finally, the team still needs to develop a killer instinct. When teams like Allen, Colorado or Florida get up on the opposition 5-0, they usually tack on one or two more for good measure, just to make sure the other side doesn’t get up off the mat. It is still early in the season, but not seeing that Sunday afternoon against Rapid City was a little disconcerting.
The schedule is going to get much tougher very quickly, with November’s slate filled with dates against the Kansas City Mavericks, Allen Americans, Utah, and Kalamazoo. It will be evident what kind of team this will be by Thanksgiving, but until then, enjoy this Thunder fans.
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