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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Wichita Thunder will look to build off this season’s success

By Jeffrey Lutz
The Wichita Eagle

If there is any good news about the Thunder ending its season with a loss in the CHL Finals on May 7, it’s that there isn’t a lot of time to stew about it.

The 2012-13 season begins in about five months, which means that in about four, the Thunder will begin practice.

The amount of time between the end of last season and the beginning of next may seem longer because of the negative feelings the break accompanies, but the actual time won’t allow those feelings to fester as much.

"There’s a lot of highs and lows, but the only thing we can do is learn from that," Thunder defenseman Justin Sawyer said. "Everyone individually can learn a few things. We fell short, but now we know what it takes."

The league Wichita returns to could look much different, including the possible loss of the team that beat it for the championship, Fort Wayne.

The Komets, along with another playoff team, Evansville, are rumored to be headed to the ECHL, and Laredo ceased operations after the season.

One league owner, Rapid City’s Scott Mueller, guessed that the league could gain multiple new teams for the 2013-14 season. Next year, an as-yet unnamed franchise in Denver will be added.

There could be an expansion draft before next season, but Thunder general manager Joel Lomurno said he doesn’t believe there will be, noting that the decision will be made at the league meetings next week.

The Thunder roster will also probably face notable, if not sweeping, changes. Alex Bourret, the team’s most electric offensive player, has said that he would like to play in Europe next season. His absence was felt when he missed most of three Finals games with a concussion and a broken rib.

Wichita could also benefit from adding defensemen who don’t place scoring as a priority. The Thunder was exposed in the Finals by Fort Wayne players who raced past Wichita defensemen who were past the blue line, leading to several easy shots for the Komets.

Beyond that, though, Wichita doesn’t need much help. It had the best regular-season record in the CHL and won its first two playoff series relatively easily.

"There’ll be changes this summer," Wichita captain and defenseman Daniel Tetrault said. "We need to make adjustments and go from there."

Coach Kevin McClelland, who has led Wichita to consecutive posteason appearances, has said he’ll be returning. He was slow to announce his status for the 2011-12 season while Wichita’s ownership situation materialized, and having McClelland in the fold for an entire offseason will help his recruiting efforts.

The Thunder may not anticipate a difficult offseason, but McClelland’s roster-building expertise could help toward a smooth transition to next year.

"It was a good season," McClelland said. "Obviously you want to get to the end of the line, and we didn’t this year. A lot of positive things and a lot of things that we have to work on."

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