WICHITA, KS – Fighting to stay in contact with the top eight in the ECHL’s Western Conference, the Wichita Thunder begin a pivotal seven-game road trip tonight against the Missouri Mavericks at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
The Thunder hit the road sitting in 13th place (6-12-0-1, 13 points) in the conference, seven points out of the final playoff position, currently occupied by a free-falling Indy Fuel squad. During the trip, the Thunder will play three games against the Colorado Eagles, two against Tulsa, and one each against Missouri and Rapid City. Wichita has a combined 4-8-0-1 record against those opponents.
“I knew after that seven-in-nine, I was real concerned with getting injuries or a bad record,” said Thunder head coach Kevin McClelland. “Sure enough, we came back with a bad record and I still think that’s lingering a little bit. We’re licking our wounds right now as a hockey club and I look no further than that seven-in-nine.”
One of the wounds McClelland has tried to close has been on the back-end. Gone are defensemen Daniel Johnston, Andrew Blazek and Ryan Ruikka — all of whom never seemed to fit in McClelland’s system.
Joining the team this week were defensemen Landon Oslanski — who will make his team debut tonight — and Martin Nemcik. No word from the team on when Nemcik will make his debut.
Dalton Reum is also likely to come off the team’s injured list at some point during the road trip. He has been on the 21-day injured reserve list since November 20.
Theo Peckham will not make the road trip after being placed on the injured reserve earlier this week.
“You gotta try and find the right mix, right chemistry. Certain guys haven’t shown us that they got it anymore or want to play. So we’ve still got more moves to come.” McClelland said.
The other wound has been the power play, which has shown signs of life recently, going 2-for-10 in three games last week after going ten straight without a marker. The ineptitude forced McClelland to replace a defenseman with a forward on the back-end and likely contributed to the Tulsa Oilers shorthanded marker with seven minutes to go last Saturday night.
Oslanski’s addition should help alleviate the pressure on the blue line. So far, he has three points on the man-advantage this season, which leads the team, and collected 18 points (5G, 13A) from the power play last season. He has a good one-time shot and is decent at keeping the puck in the zone. Look for McClelland to use Oslanski with Martell on the man-advantage.
“We want him (Oslanski) to help us upgrade our power play,” McClelland said.
Also warming up is forward Danick Gauthier, who has four goals in his last five games, after being held off the goal sheet in his first 13 games this season. His re-emergence offensively will buoy the team, which is only scoring an average of two goals per contest and has only lit the lamp ten times away from INTRUST Bank Arena.
The Thunder head coach stressed that an offensive savior is not on the way.
“Look boys, here’s a news bulletin. We’re not a pretty hockey club. We gotta go out there and we gotta work hard. We don’t have the luxury of having those top guys coming in and making it easy. We gotta work for our opportunities,” McClelland said.
If the team wants to make noise in the western conference playoff race, coming home to Wichita with a winning record is a must. The Thunder are playing teams — Colorado and Tulsa — who are also jockeying to get into the top eight.
“Anytime you can go on the road and play .500 that’d be great,” McClelland said. “We just gotta get through this stretch…with it still close and then our schedule can even out.”
Wichita returns home December 20th, when they will host the Cincinnati Cyclones for the first time ever.