Uncertainty is part of what makes the beginning of a season exciting, but the questions surrounding the Thunder hockey team’s Friday night opener became a hassle.
A day before the first puck drops, the Quad City Mallards, who have been practicing with less than a full squad for only two days amid visa and team financial problems, were replaced as Wichita’s opponent by the Tulsa Oilers for Friday’s game at Intrust Bank Arena.
“I’m happy to say we’ll have a game,” Thunder general manager Joel Lomurno said. “We have an opponent, we’ll play Tulsa and we’re happy about it.”
The Central Hockey League made the switch late Thursday afternoon, citing Quad City’s lack of playing time and lack of a full roster.
“With the Mallards only scheduled for one game before Oct. 26, we felt it was the best move for all parties to remove them from Friday’s game in Wichita and allow them the extra time to prepare for the 2012-13 season,” CHL commissioner Duane Lewis said in a statement. He said he expects Quad City to be ready a week from today.
When Quad City failed to report to practice along with the rest of the league’s teams Oct. 8, speculation began about the future of the franchise. The Mallards ended last season under financial duress. A potential sale of the franchise fell through over the summer, though coach Terry Ruskowski implied that there’s an ownership change taking place.
But because of the prior uncertainty, the Mallards didn’t report to their camp until Wednesday, and not all of the players have arrived.
Tulsa is already scheduled to play at Intrust Bank Arena on Saturday. Watching two games against the rival Oilers will likely placate Thunder fans, but the anticipation of opening weekend is dampened somewhat by the confusion on Quad City’s status.
“We have to keep a positive spin on it,” McClelland said. “Our front-office staff and our owners have done an unbelievable job getting some excitement going with the ballclub. We’ve got a bunch of fans that are going to start walking through that door at 6 o’clock (Friday), so we’ve got to keep working and put a positive spin on it.”
While doing his best to keep out of the discussions over the Thunder’s contingency plans, McClelland has focused on his job. Wichita has added and subtracted from the roster throughout training camp and McClelland settled on a final group at about 1 p.m. on Thursday.
The Thunder is trying to replace four top scorers — Matt Robinson, Thomas Beauregard, Alex Bourret and Aaron Davis — who helped Wichita reach the CHL Finals last season.
Off the ice, Lomurno said there are minimal problems in preparing for a new opponent with 24 hours’ notice. Computer-generated team logos and public-address scripts must be changed, and Quad City’s hotel reservations for Thursday night were cancelled and Friday hotel reservations for Tulsa were made.