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Thunder had regular-season success against playoff foe

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, March 27, 2012, at 11:33 p.m.

Rio Grande vs. Wichita

What: CHL playoffs (best-of-seven)

Series opener: Friday

Where: Intrust Bank Arena

Radio: KKLE, 1550-AM, KWME, 92.7-FM

They say that regular-season statistics don’t matter when it comes to predicting how a postseason series will unfold, but there still has to be something said for preparation.

In that regard, the Thunder’s schedule will have it ready for the CHL playoffs and its opening-round series against Rio Grande Valley, even more than Wichita’s 3-0 record against the Killer Bees this season.

Wichita, the No. 1 seed in the Berry Conference, played exactly two-thirds of its 66 games against the other seven teams that reached the postseason. In those 44 games, the Thunder went 27-15-2 with a winning record against all of them except Allen.

The fourth-seeded Killer Bees, perhaps only in the playoffs because of a recent stretch against lackluster opponents, went 8-18-4 against the other CHL playoff participants, notching wins against just two.

"Obviously, we had a tough schedule this year," Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. "We faced off against some good hockey clubs. The numbers might look like what they are, but I’ll tell you every hockey team in the CHL is a good hockey team."

The teams enter the best-of-7 series with streaks diametrically opposing their seeds. Wichita lost the final three games of the regular season, representing the first time the Thunder dropped more than two in a row.

Rio Grande Valley has won 10 of its last 12 games, allowing it to overtake Tulsa for the final Berry playoff spot. The Killer Bees have scored five or more goals in nine games since Feb. 9, feasting on mostly inferior opponents.

During the 12-game stretch, Rio Grande Valley has one win over a playoff team. In three meetings this season, Wichita outscored the Killer Bees 11-2. McClelland, however, put little stock in those numbers.

"The regular season is now a distant memory," McClelland said. "Now it’s a whole different season, and I think everybody knows that. Every team that’s in the playoffs right now is very deserving."

While Wichita has been carried mostly by its depth, Rio Grande Valley has a few standout players that can make it a dangerous postseason opponent.

Dan Gendur is seventh in the CHL in scoring with 77 points, Brandon Campos is high in several statistical categories among rookies, and defenseman Scott Balan leads the team with a plus-14 rating. But the Killer Bees’ hottest and most dynamic player is Aaron Lee.

Lee led Rio Grande Valley to a 9-2 March, scoring 11 goals. During a 12-game point streak, he has scored 19 points. His nine game-winning goals rank second in the league behind Wichita’s Matt Robinson.

"They’ve got some real skill up front and some real fast guys," McClelland said. "They’re a quick hockey team and they’re a group that really works hard. When it comes to containing, we’ve got to make sure we match their work ethic and contain their speed."

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