Unlike many rookies in the Central Hockey League this season, Thunder defenseman Jon Madden got a head start.
Madden played briefly in the league at the end of last season when Rio Grande Valley took advantage of roster provisions that allow players to be added in preparation for the playoffs. Madden played four regular-season games with the now-defunct Killer Bees and in their four-game postseason losses to the Thunder.
The players added late in the season or during the playoffs often don’t make rosters the following season, but Madden made enough of an impression that he was signed by Wichita this summer. Madden said he was impressed by the Thunder during the postseason and he welcomed the chance to play in Wichita.
"I believe (Thunder coach Kevin McClelland) was one of the first coaches to give me a call," Madden said. "It surprised me, I got quite a few calls from teams within our league. It’s definitely a humbling feeling when you get phone calls from all these teams, and it’s not a bad thing to be able to choose where you want to go.
"But once I got that call from (McClelland), I just knew from playing at Intrust (Bank Arena) and being in Wichita in the first round of the playoffs, I knew this was where I wanted to play. I don’t think I could have found a better place."
Madden finished his collegiate career last spring at Wisconsin-Stevens Point and, after waiting on calls from professional teams for weeks, he seemed resigned to having to wait to play at the next level.
An inquiry eventually was made by Rio Grande Valley, and Madden went from having no job to being involved in a playoff run. The Killer Bees, as the No. 8 seed, didn’t pose much of a threat, but Madden gained valuable — if limited — experience.
"It was a great learning experience for me and I just used it as that," Madden said. "I did exactly what I wanted to do, and that was to get my foot in the door and try to open up some eyes. It worked out for the better for me because I got to come and join the Thunder this year."
The eight games Madden played were important beyond getting him noticed. They also allowed him to continue to acclimate himself as a defenseman, a position he switched to in his final college season after three years as a forward.
Madden played defense sporadically as a junior player but preferred the recognition a scorer receives. That attitude has evolved as he gains more seasoning as a defenseman.
"It’s always fun to play forward — you get all the glory scoring goals and everyone likes that," Madden said. "I actually really do enjoy playing defense. It’s something I take pride in, and I like being the guy who works his butt off on the defensive end.
"If you had asked me this question last year, I would have said I liked playing forward. But I really enjoy being a defenseman. I’m really taking this new role and running with it; I really like it a lot."
• With the NHL lockout coming to an end, rosters are shuffling in the CHL. Allen, the only team ahead of Wichita in the standings, has been hit the hardest. Two of the Americans’ top defensemen were promoted — Tyler Ludwig to the American Hockey League and Alec Martinez to the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings.
• Thunder forward Matt Summers scored his 100th professional goal Friday against Missouri. Wichita forward RG Flath is also nearing that milestone, with 96 goals entering Tuesday’s game against Rapid City.
Nathan Lutz has represented the best in the Thunder’s goal-prevention efforts. Lutz, a 12-year veteran in his first season with the Thunder, owns a team-best plus-16 rating. The defenseman is also among the team leaders with 15 assists.
Wichita lost to Missouri on Friday despite taking a season-best 51 shots. Shot total, however, hasn’t been the best indicator for Thunder success — Wichita is 14-9-2 when it outshoots the opponent and 6-1-1 in the reverse situation.
Tap of the stick
Greger Hanson, Wichita’s third-leading scorer with 31 points, is in a race with former Northern Michigan University teammate Tyler Gron for the CHL rookie scoring lead. Through Tuesday, Gron led CHL freshmen with 32 points.
Before Allen was depleted by player promotions, the Americans addressed their seemingly superior toughness by trading for Alex Penner from Rapid City. Penner was second on the Rush with 71 penalty minutes, a total that ranks fifth on Allen. Penner fought twice with the Thunder’s Erick Lizon, since promoted to the AHL, during a game in Wichita last month.
The number of points Allen has gained on Wichita since Dec. 22. That night, the Americans started a six-game winning streak by beating the Thunder in overtime. Wichita has gone 2-3-1 in that stretch for five points. Allen has 48 points on the season, Wichita 43.
He said it
"He’s a phenomenal player. I look up to him even though he’s a fellow rookie like myself. He’s a true pro, comes to work every day and tries to get better and it shows the way he plays."
—Madden on Thunder teammate Hanson