Travis Wight delivers hip and body checks with such force that they’re bound to make an opponent angry.
None of them have gotten angry enough to fight, though. At least not until Wight, a Thunder defenseman, clipped Missouri’s Derek LeBlanc with an errant hip check during Sunday’s game.
LeBlanc dropped his gloves, not unusual for him. Wight had to drop his, too, even though he was entering an element entirely not his. He hadn’t fought in two-plus seasons with the Thunder; his last fight, according to hockeyfights.com, was Feb. 28, 2009, when Wight played in the ECHL.
“It wasn’t a planned thing,” the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Wight said. “I usually don’t fight, I’m not the biggest guy. I play a physical game, and sometimes people take exception to that.”
Wight was attempting to deliver a hip check to LeBlanc in the second period of Sunday’s game in Wichita, but LeBlanc moved just before contact was initiated. According to Wight, his leg made contact with LeBlanc’s head.
That set off LeBlanc, and when Wight tried to re-enter the action he was confronted by LeBlanc. It was an atypical response from a player hit by Wight; opponents often don’t attempt to fight him because Wight doesn’t have that reputation, and they usually carry respect for Wight’s hip checks, a maneuver not easy to execute.
“It’s kind of hit or miss,” Wight said. “There’s one thing if it’s a clean hit and one thing if it’s a dirty hit. I try to play a pretty clean game. I don’t take a lot of penalties, I don’t really go out there with the intent to injure anyone. I try to make my hits as clean as possible. Surprisingly, sometimes you’ll get a guy who will say, ‘Hey, that was a good hit,’ and actually compliment you on it.”
LeBlanc offered no such platitudes. He apparently wasn’t concerned with Wight’s reputation. Wight didn’t know LeBlanc’s, but he wouldn’t have had time to register it, anyway.
According to hockeyfights.com, LeBlanc, who was traded Tuesday to Arizona, has been in 45 fights during his nine-plus-year career. Discretion is not his specialty — he has three preseason fights, including one this year. Wight said the only thing he knew about LeBlanc is that they are both from the same Canadian province, Manitoba.
“I tried to ignore him, but he was still in my face wanting to go, so I basically just dropped my gloves right away,” Wight said. “I got the first punch in. I hit him in the jaw and knocked him down. You’re not really thinking of a strategy. It’s the heat of the moment, and you just drop your gloves and throw a punch.”
Thunder players have been in eight fights this season in eight games, ahead of the pace of the last two seasons, when players fought 52 times in each year.
After losing physical players such as Justin Sawyer and Alex Bourret, and with Erick Lizon out with an injury, the onus is on players such as Wight, Dustin Donaghy and newcomer Aaron Boogaard to maintain Wichita’s physical edge. Boogaard has already been in five fights.
“We play a physical game,” Wight said. “It’s not so much the fighting aspect of it, it’s just making hits, taking hits, not getting pushed around. But it obviously does help when we have the presence of Boogaard, Lizon, guys like that.”
• The CHL’s online statistics database goes back to the 2002-03 season, and Wichita’s sweep of Missouri last weekend represented the only time the Thunder has beaten the same opponent three nights in a row. Wichita had three other cracks at it but went 1-2 against Texas last season and 0-2 and 1-2 against Youngstown in 2006 and ’07.
• Wichita’s Kevin Regan was named CHL goaltender of the week. Regan earned wins in both of his weekend starts against Missouri, including notching his second career shutout in Friday’s 3-0 victory.
The Thunder’s second line, Chad Painchaud, Ian Lowe and Neil Trimm, has outperformed the starters for much of the season. Each player has at least 10 points; Painchaud has a team-best 13 points and has scored in eight straight games.
Ryan Flanigan has failed to make much of an impression during his time in Wichita. In six games, the rookie forward hasn’t registered a point and owns a minus-4 rating. The Thunder re-signed him Monday after his five-game assignment from the AHL ran out.
Tap of the stick
Wichita’s power play is ranked third in the league with a 25 percent success rate. The Thunder has scored on 10 of 40 man-advantages.
Former Saturday Night Live cast member and frequent Adam Sandler sidekick Rob Schneider dropped the ceremonial first puck before Sunday’s game. Schneider performed a stand-up comedy show in Wichita later that night.
Wichita and Allen lead the CHL with 22 points among defensemen. The only other team with at least 20 is Bloomington, and four teams have no more than half the leaders’ total.
He said it
“Even when you have a team back-to-back, nine out of 10 times those are splits. The results were real good for our hockey club this weekend, obviously.”
— Thunder coach Kevin McClelland on the difficulty of beating a team three times in three nights