In light of the Thunder’s 1-3-1 start, the availability of Alex Bourret makes for an interesting discussion. So far, nothing beyond discussions have taken place.
Bourret, arguably the Thunder’s most valuable player last season, left the Thunder to sign with the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones this summer. At the time of his recent release, Wichita had filled its roster and had none of its six veteran spots available.
While he awaits a call from Thunder coach Kevin McClelland, who hasn’t yet been compelled to shuffle the roster, Bourret is playing in the Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey, a low-level professional league based in his native Quebec.
According to McClelland, Bourret has expressed interest in returning.
"Where it’s going to go, who knows," McClelland said. "I’ve had conversations with Alex — not actual conversations, but text messages. You’ve got to let someone go to make room, so we’ll see what happens. Everybody gets a little bit edgy with the start that we’ve had obviously, but I’ve been around hockey long enough to know that you just don’t make kneejerk-reaction moves."
Bourret had 57 points (20 goals, 37 assists) in 43 games, supplementing his skill by providing a physical presence that carried the Thunder to the CHL Finals. He frequently delivered massive hits that shook the boards but sometimes toed the line of legality. He was suspended twice last year for hits that were deemed excessively violent.
That abandon also cost Bourret his health. He missed the final four games of the CHL Finals against Fort Wayne after missing a check and landing back-first against the boards, suffering what he said was a broken rib and a concussion.
Bourret missed three games, returning as Wichita lost the series-clinching Game 5, and there were rumors that Bourret’s unavailability caused him to fall out of favor with McClleand. But McLelland said Bourret’s style of play only earned his respect.
"That kid plays hard," McClleand said. "You watch him out there, and he brings it. He doesn’t play a perimeter game, he’s right in there. He was just a little bit banged up at the end of the year, and that happens in hockey. He tried to come back and give it his best shot, but you still can’t take away what he did for our hockey club all year."
Bourret hasn’t been the only potential target for the Thunder this week. Thomas Beauregard, another top scorer last year, was released, and afterward, according to McClelland, he reached out to the Thunder.
But on Tuesday Beauregard signed with Fort Wayne, now in the ECHL. The Thunder owns the rights to Beauregard and Bourret, meaning if they returned to the CHL they could only sign with Wichita.
With Beauregard off the table, Bourret could become an even more enticing option for a team looking for some early-season momentum.
"It’s nowhere yet," McClelland said. "… Right now, nothing is going to happen because you can’t have seven vets on roster. But we’ll see what happens this weekend and monitor the situation and keep in contact. It’s a nice sign that he wants to come back here. He played real well for us last year, but there are a lot of other things involved, too."
• The CHL took control of the Quad City franchise last week after the Mallards were forced to postpone the start of their season while sorting out their front-office situation. The league said it would "provide funding and evaluate the ownership status to keep the club in ... Moline, Illinois."
• The Thunder added forward Ryan Flanigan, who was assigned to Wichita by Connecticut of the American Hockey League, a New York Rangers affiliate. The 24-year-old Flanigan completed his collegiate career at Merrimack College in Massachusetts this spring.
Wichita has averaged the second-most shots in the league, one-tenth behind Denver (39.5 to 39.4) while surrendering the fewest (27.2).
Four of 16 qualifying goalies have a save percentage lower than Kevin Regan’s .885, but one of them is Thunder teammate Torrie Jung, at .875.
TAP OF THE STICK
Wichita forward Gregor Hanson, part of a line that features Matt Summers and R.G. Flath, leads CHL rookies with five assists, and he is tied for the rookie lead with seven points.
Thunder enforcer Aaron Boogaard was suspended for last Saturday’s game against Bloomington after receiving a fighting major penalty and a fighting aggressor game misconduct against the Blaze the previous night. Boogaard is second in the league with 27 penalty minutes.
The Thunder’s 2011-12 record in games that were part of three-day, three-game stretches. Wichita again has 10 of those stretches this year, starting with this weekend’s series with Missouri.
HE SAID IT
"We had tons of opportunities, and I’m on that bus trying to figure out how we didn’t get a couple wins on that road trip. Our guys played well and we peppered the other team with shots, we just found ways to lose those games."
— McClelland on Wichita’s 0-2-1 road trip