Even though the Thunder’s recently completed six-game road trip that kept the team away from Wichita for two weeks featured elements of a good dream, coach Kevin McClelland called it a nightmare.
It’s difficult to argue with McClelland. The team’s bus broke down following the first game of the trip and the team similarly sputtered. The Thunder went 2-4, losing the final game of the trip against Rapid City that could have gotten them through it with an even record.
Instead, the formerly first-place Thunder returns home Friday as close to sixth place as it is to first. Allen leads second-place Wichita by six points, thanks mostly to a superior road record. Wichita hasn’t quite figured out consistency away from Intrust Bank Arena — the 2-4 trip dropped it to 8-9-2 on the road.
“Anytime you go on an extended road trip, if you come back and you say you’re .500, that’s not a bad road trip,” McClelland said. “We don’t want to settle for that here. We were on the south side of .500, so we know that we weren’t very happy moving forward here.”
The Thunder has averaged close to four goals per game at home but fewer than three on the road. The six games away from Wichita were an exercise in inconsistency, as the Thunder failed to top three goals during the last four games and finished the trip with consecutive 3-1 losses to Rapid City.
The scoring problems surfaced even before the Thunder departed, though. Wichita scored one goal in its final home game and has frequently followed high-output games with low-scoring ones that have made it difficult to gain ground in the standings.
The Thunder’s longest remaining trip is a four-game, nine-day swing in February. Wichita will mostly feel the comforts of home until then, playing nine of its next 14 games at IBA.
“You really want to keep your composure through this and know there’s a lot of teams knocking behind us,” McClelland said. “We knew that from the beginning of the year — there’s a lot of good teams this year.… You’ve got to be good every night.”
A step toward solving the scoring problems and the inconsistency came when Wichita added forward Matt Robinson on Friday. Though he went scoreless in his first two games, Wichita’s leading scorer over the last two seasons and a two-time All-Star can only help.
Robinson and the Thunder will both endure an adjustment period — Robinson wasn’t playing much with Alaska of the ECHL and Wichita has played well without him so incorporating a star into the scheme might not be easy.
McClelland trusts Robinson’s familiarity and believes the learning curve won’t be too sharp.
“I think he knows the systems here and he knows what’s expected on a nightly basis,” McClelland said. “He played pretty well just getting inserted in the lineup up there. He showed his speed and skill and it’s just a matter of time before he breaks out.”
• Though Wichita features four players with at least 30 points (and two more with at least 27), the Thunder has no players among the CHL’s top 10 scoring leaders. Missouri’s Sebastien Thinel paces the league with 54 points and Arizona’s Chad Nehring is the top goal scorer, with 25.
• Allen, which leads every CHL team by at least three wins, will be more difficult to catch because the Americans have played the fewest games. Every other team has played at least 35 — Wichita 37 — but Allen has played 33.
McClelland continues to rise among CHL coaching wins leaders. He’s currently eighth with 287 wins. McClelland is seven wins away from moving into sole possession of seventh on the career list.
During Wichita’s six-game road trip, no player had more than two goals. Dave Inman and Les Reaney, who each scored in the first game of the trip, have gone scoreless since.
Tap of the stick
A cure for the Thunder’s recent struggles could be found with three games this weekend against Tulsa. The Oilers beat Wichita in the season’s first meeting but the Thunder was won all three since, outscoring Tulsa 19-6.
Goaltender Kevin Regan’s record in his last seven starts. Regan, who has played the most minutes among CHL goalies, was on a five-game winning streak before his current skid.
He said it
“We got through a pretty tough stretch there and we didn’t gain anything on Allen. We lost some tough ones to teams underneath us, but now coming down the stretch we’ve got to play pretty good hockey. It’s a crapshoot where you’re going to finish, with so many good teams in the league this year.”
— McClelland on the Thunder’s recent and future plight