FORT WAYNE, Ind. — The Thunder trails Fort Wayne 3-0 in the best-of-seven Central Hockey League finals. But it’s better than the assembly line.
The motivation for the Thunder to win Saturday and extend its season isn’t just about playing more hockey and keeping its hopes for winning a championship alive — it’s about delaying reality.
"Guys got to realize that if we lose (today), then we’re going to be losers," Thunder defenseman Justin Sawyer said. "We’re going to go back to doing our summer jobs, working factories or whatever (joyless) summer jobs we do, or we’re going to win."
To beat the clearly superior Komets, who have outscored Wichita 18-9 in the first three games, Wichita has to figure out an area in which it has an advantage.
So far, there hasn’t been one. The Thunder has been outplayed simply because its skill level doesn’t match Fort Wayne’s. Wichita hasn’t been able to slow down Fort Wayne by playing physically or successfully adapting to the Komets’ style.
Even emotion has gone in Fort Wayne’s favor. But Wichita, grasping for any method to win, believes a new spirit can produce a faster start than in the first three games and carry the Thunder to a win.
"That’s the thing about this team — we love this kind of stuff, we play well under adversity," Sawyer said. "We have a chance to rewrite history, so everyone has to show up and play like men. We’ve got to give everything."
The first step toward making history is the belief that it can happen, but Wichita hasn’t often played as if it had faith.
The Thunder looked spent during the third period of Thursday’s 7-3 loss, when it was outshot 16-6. Fort Wayne seems to be running on the adrenaline created from total domination, and Wichita is getting worn out trying to match it.
"Eventually you’ve got to quit talking and you’ve got to go out there and do it," Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. "All of us. That’s always nice to hear and everything, and we do have that opportunity (to make history with a comeback), but we’ve got to play a lot smarter Saturday night.
"Actions speak louder than words in these situations, and that’s what we need right now."
McClelland’s desire to control the opening minutes of Thursday’s game resulted in poor execution of his game plan and Fort Wayne quickly taking advantage by scoring two goals in the first four minutes.
Fort Wayne had two more scoring flurries, netting three goals in less than two minutes in the second period and pushing its lead from 5-3 to 7-3 in a stretch of less than three minutes in the third.
Wichita can eventually pull itself out of those down cycles, but not quickly enough. The cohesion the Thunder had during the regular season and first two playoff series is non-existent when Fort Wayne is on the attack.
"Guys are trying," McClelland said. "Maybe they’re trying to do it individually. We’ve not done that all year — we need to play together and make the right plays and use the assets that we have."
Either that or go back to the factory.