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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wichita Thunder may be less than full strength for Game 3

By Jeffrey Lutz
The Wichita Eagle

As if being down two games to none wasn’t damaging enough, the Thunder’s chances of rallying against Fort Wayne to win the best-of-seven Central Hockey League finals are now partially reliant on the health of two of its most important players.

Goalie Adam Russo and forward Alex Bourret were both too injured to finish Game 2, which Fort Wayne won 6-3 at Intrust Bank Arena on Sunday. Russo left in the second period because of a mild concussion after playing ineffectively and Bourret didn’t play after the first period because of an injury suffered the night before.

Bourret had a concussion and a broken rib and, like Russo, will be a game-time decision for Thursday’s Game 3 in Fort Wayne. The Thunder has played most of the season with portions of its roster unavailable, so while Wichita isn’t panicking, the setback has come at an inopportune time.

"There’s nothing really major wrong with them," Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said, adding that his discretion regarding the use of injured players doesn’t change from the regular season and that he’ll continue to trust the judgment of team doctors and trainers.

The Thunder has played without forwards Chris Greene, Matt Summers and Aaron Davis at times during the postseason, with Davis out for seven of that group’s 10 missed games.

Wichita has survived to this point without them, but losing Bourret can be equated to losing multiple players because of his versatility.

Bourret sets the tone for the Thunder’s physical style, and though that has been rendered somewhat obsolete by Fort Wayne’s ability to control the tempo, it is completely impotent without Bourret’s crushing hits.

The Thunder’s offense also suffers without Bourret, who can create his own shot and execute crisp passes that allow his teammates scoring opportunities. Linemate Thomas Beauregard scored twice in Game 1 but didn’t notch a goal in Game 2 while seeing his shots dwindle from six to three with Bourret mostly unavailable.

"It’s playoff time — there’s always injuries," Thunder captain Daniel Tetrault said. "Guys are playing hurt, but we can’t use it as an excuse. We all have to step up as a team. Whoever goes down, guys will have to step up. I’m sure (Fort Wayne) has a lot of injuries, too. You’ve just got to battle through it."

Russo, though he has been subpar during the series, is another of Wichita’s emotional leaders, a locker room prankster who is perhaps the player most responsible for the Thunder’s noticeable chemistry.

Wichita needs Russo not just for his typically strong play in net but for his ability to keep his teammates loose in the face of danger.

Hope is not lost if Wichita can’t employ Russo and Bourret on Thursday, just badly harmed. As McClelland points out, the Thunder played without several stars in the two regular-season games with Fort Wayne and still won both.

"We did it all year," McClelland said. "The one game we went into Fort Wayne we didn’t have Davis, we didn’t have Tetrault and we didn’t have Bourret and we still did all right. ... It’s a matter of the guys coming into the lineup to do the job."

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