Under coach Kevin McClelland, goalkeeper has been a strong position for the Thunder. It just hasn’t been particularly stable.
In each of McClelland’s three seasons, the primary starting and backup goalies have been different than the season before. The only holdover was Ian Keserich, who played 22 games in Wichita’s 9-50-5 2009-10 campaign and three games in McClelland’s first season.
The reason for the instability hasn’t had much to do with performance. Marc-Antoine Gelinas and Adam Russo were significant factors in Wichita reaching the playoffs the last two seasons, and the Thunder has often had capable backups. McClelland has just found it difficult to pass up annual opportunities to improve the position.
This season the improvements came in the form of former American Hockey Leaguer Kevin Regan, Wichita’s starter, and Torrie Jung, who has extensive Central Hockey League experience.
"Things happen and guys move on or someone available comes along that maybe you think is going to do a better job," McClelland said. "It’s not so much that you’re trying to always bring new goaltenders every year. You always look to upgrade and certain guys don’t fit into the scheme of things."
It didn’t seem likely that Wichita could improve upon the goalies who ended last season, Russo and rookie Bryan Hogan. Russo offered a consistency that was valuable to the Thunder like a game-managing quarterback is valuable to a football team that excels at other positions.
Wichita excelled offensively, featuring prime scorers such as Matt Robinson, Matt Summers, Alex Bourret and Thomas Beauregard. Russo rarely faced as many shots as the opposing goalie did, and his primary job wasn’t to win games but to make sure Wichita’s forwards could.
Hogan, acquired in a midseason trade, often outshined Russo. Even though the pair faltered in the CHL Finals against Fort Wayne, letting Hogan leave and trading Russo to Arizona weren’t easy decisions. McClelland, however, felt they were necessary.
"Bringing these two guys in this year, we were pretty high on them as an organization," McClelland said. "What Regan did in the past had a big bearing on the situation. And Torrie Jung hasn’t played on a lot of good teams but he has good numbers, so that says something about him."
The Thunder’s talent at goalie has seemed to correlate with their overall success. Gelinas anchored a team that lost in the first round of the playoffs, and while Wichita may not duplicate last season’s 44 wins and 91 points, it seems that with Regan they’re more equipped for grueling postseason series.
Unlike his predecessors, Regan possesses the capabilities to control games rather than manage them. At 6-foot-1, Regan also has the physical tools to match the mental capacity necessary to play such a cerebral position.
Regan has won the league’s goalkeeper of the week award twice. He’s second in the league in goals-against average at 2.16, though he has played nearly 400 minutes more than the leader.
"The big thing is, Regan is a true professional," McClelland said. "He’s a guy that had an opportunity in the AHL and had good numbers there. He’s a guy that could very easily get back there, and I think that’s always in the back of his mind. No matter where he is, he wants to conduct himself first-class, and that’s what he’s done since he’s been here in Wichita."