The Thunder seemed to prove over the first four meetings that it was better than Fort Worth, but having to play a team several times in a short stretch can make for some odd results.
After outscoring the Brahmas 21-9 during the first four games, Wichita lost 5-1 Wednesday in Texas. The Thunder was overmatched by Fort Worth’s effort and a defensive style that finally generated offense.
Wichita is far from done with the Brahmas. The teams play again Friday night in Wichita, their third straight meeting and fourth in the last five games, then again on New Year’s Eve in Fort Worth.
“That can happen,” Wichita defenseman Kevin Young said of Wichita’s first poor showing against Fort Worth. “I think it’s just proven that any team can beat anyone. We came out really flat and shot ourselves in the foot.”
Fort Worth plays at a slower pace that can frustrate opponents, which it apparently did to Wichita on Wednesday night.
The Brahmas clog up the neutral zone, making it difficult for teams to build rushes toward the net. That style is particularly effective on Fort Worth’s smaller home rink.
A familiarity with Fort Worth could benefit the Thunder long-term. Though the middling Brahmas might not be a postseason opponent for Wichita, their restrictive brand of hockey is sure to show up in the playoffs.
“They’re hard games to play,” Young said. “But that’s pretty much a playoff game, a playoff-style of game and we need to get used to that and be able to match that and almost beat them at their own game.”
An in-season series can bring about a temporary rivalry, and though Wichita’s natural foes are Missouri and Allen, which trails the Thunder by a point in the CHL standings, the Brahmas can make their way onto that short list at least until the end of the year.
The teams fought twice Wednesday and combined for 68 penalty minutes. Part of that total, which included 39 penalty minutes by Wichita, was the Thunder’s frustration at their dismal performance. But part of it was that Wichita just might be ready to be done with the Brahmas.
“It’s not so much that you get tired of them,” Thunder defenseman Andrew Martens said. “You grow to, I don’t want to say hate the other team, but it gets a little grinding, especially if you beat them before. That makes games like that pretty big.”