GM: 'A tremendous night'
Except for one pesky little detail (another loss), the Thunder's first game in Intrust Bank Arena was an unqualified success.
Surprising even general manager Joel Lomurno, a sell-out crowd of 13,412, which included a walk-up of about 2,000, packed into the new facility to watch a last-place, four-win team.
Fans were treated to a stylish video before introductions, Phil Stacey singing the National Anthem and a close game that nearly went into overtime. (I thought Brandon Kaleniecki's shot had a chance to tie it at the buzzer.) But after taking a 1-0 lead into the third period, the Thunder lost 2-1.
"It was just a tremendous night," Lomurno said. "We accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish, other than winning the hockey game."
The Thunder, which was averaging 3,866 fans at the Kansas Coliseum, didn't rely on freebies to fill IBA, either. Lomurno said his organization is allowed 1,500 complimentary tickets, and it gave out fewer than that.
The question is: What happens now?
After the novelty wears off, fans will be left with a struggling team with little star power that doesn't score much.
"Opening night is a big event and you want to blow out the building, and I think we accomplished that," Lomurno said. "Now, people are coming out to see hockey.
"But whether you've got 15,000 or 5,000 in the stands, you have to have the personnel to get it done. We've made a lot of good moves to improve this team. I've told the coaches and the team that there's no excuses now."
* Interim coach Jason Duda said that, if his back doesn't allow him to return to the ice next season, he wants to be considered for the permanent coaching job. "Of course, anybody would like the opportunity," he said. "It would be nice to get a fresh start with your own guys." Lomurno said he is focused on the current season. "Decisions regarding next year will be discussed after the season," he said.
* Of the players who have left the team, Kaleniecki's loss will be felt the most. He had six goals and nine points in 23 games. More impressively, he was plus-1. Kaleniecki asked for his release because he wants to play closer to his home in Michigan. "It's too bad," Duda said. "He was a great kid and a really good player."
* The Thunder has added forward Taylor Guay, who was scoreless in 16 games with Amarillo.
The Thunder has gone 38 for its last 40 on the penalty kill, climbing out of last place to 13th in the CHL at 81.8 percent.
Faltering late has been commonplace for the Thunder, which has been outscored 53-21 and out-shot 380-300 in the third period.
TAP OF THE STICK
Recently acquired Shane Foster has scored three points and fought twice in three games in Wichita. In the Thunder's victory on Friday, which snapped a 22-game losing streak, he had a Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist, fight). It was the Thunder's second Gordie Howe of the season; Troy Ofukany accomplished the feat on Oct. 23, also against Tulsa.
That the "And they still suck" chant survived the move to the new arena — although it seemed to lack the venom it had at the Coliseum — is bad enough. Is the wave really necessary now at Thunder games, too?
PENALTY BOX II
What's the use of having giant video screens and no Kiss Cam? Am I the only romantic around here?
Goalie Ian Keserich's impressive saves percentage in seven games with the Thunder
HE SAID IT
"I was absolutely blown away. When I walked in here and saw the ice, I had chills. I don't know if there's a nicer rink in the CHL."
—CHL commissioner Duane Lewis on Intrust Bank Arena