Starting with a Wichita win last Saturday at Intrust Bank Arena, the Thunder and Allen play four times in 13 days. It might be the best time for Wichita to meet the team that sits just ahead of it for first place in the Central Hockey League.
Even though Allen is starting to see the returns of some players promoted or injured in recent weeks, the frequent turnover of its roster during that stretch has created a difficult adjustment period. The Americans recently lost seven straight, and their lead over the Thunder shrunk to three points entering Tuesday’s games.
With affiliations from two Triple-A American Hockey League teams to the Dallas Stars of the NHL, Allen is consistently prepared for callups. With so many games against the Thunder soon after they occurred, Wichita may be at an advantage for the top playoff seed as the season enters its final stretch.
“Anytime you lose a core group of guys, or even just one or two guys, it’s going to change the makeup of your team and the dynamic and chemistry.” Thunder forward Travis Wight said of the Americans. “We were more fortunate that we didn’t have any players that were going to be in that situation.”
Allen lost a player to the NHL and three to the AHL, but one of those, forward Jamie Schaafsma, was reassigned to the Americans last week. Last weekend, two Allen players were activated from injured reserve.
Seeing players come and go isn’t unique to the Americans, especially during an abnormal season in which the NHL lockout affected rosters at every level of professional hockey. The Thunder’s Ryan Flanigan was loaned to Wichita by the New York Rangers early this season but was reassigned to the ECHL last month.
Wichita has two key players, Les Reaney and Todd Griffith, on injured reserve, but the short-handedness of the Thunder and Allen doesn’t remove any importance from their upcoming games. Saturday’s win was one of Wichita’s most emotional of the season.
“With callups, with injuries, every year it’s going to happen. It’s a timing thing,” Wight said. “We played them at a time when they were a different team and we came out strong. That doesn’t take anything away from them — they’re still first place and we’re still chasing them. We know those games against them are going to be important, and we have to prepare for them like they have their full lineup.”
The intensity of Saturday’s game, including, several instances of pushing and shoving and hard hits along the boards, suggested that Wichita’s rivalry with the Americans was similarly bitter to the Thunder’s feuds with longtime opponents Tulsa and Missouri.
Since Allen is in its fourth season of existence, the rivalry hasn’t reached that level of hatred yet. Each team has bragging rights — Allen is 6-2-2 against Wichita in the last two seasons but the Thunder got farther in last year’s playoffs.
More games that feature both teams vying for the top spot in the standings could produce more bad blood, but for now the teams are in the mutual respect phase of their rivalry.
“There is a lot of respect there,” Wight said. “They came in as an expansion team but didn’t play like one, they were at the top of the league every year. You have that respect for them. …It’s one of those games that it’s not very hard to get excited for. You know, when you’re playing Allen, it’s going to be a good game. It’s developing into a rivalry.”
• Quad City forced some “when was the last time…” research with a 9-6 win over Bloomington on Friday. The Mallards became the first CHL team in 362 days to score nine goals, and their seven-goal second period were the most in one period in more than four years.
• A result of that kind featuring Bloomington was almost inevitable. Bloomington has allowed 31 goals in its last six games and leads the league in both goals and goals allowed, both 3.7.
Wichita’s penalty-killing unit is tops in the CHL, having allowed 27 power-play goals in 199 chances for an 86.4 percent success rate.
Wichita’s last three losses have all been to last-place Tulsa, all since Jan. 18. After outscoring Tulsa 19-6 in three wins, the Thunder has lost three of five to the Oilers, being outscored 17-15.
Tap of the stick
The Thunder has scored at least one point in its last eight games, which include six wins and two shootout losses to Tulsa.
Kevin Regan, who started Saturday for the first time since Jan. 18 before leaving in the first period due to injury, did not travel with the Thunder for Tuesday’s game against Rapid City. Equipment manager Brad Brungardt was Torrie Jung’s backup. .
The Thunder’s league-leading goals average.
He said it
“I just got a couple chances and a couple bounces. One was off my skate, and on the other one (Neil) Trimm made a good play to me. We needed two goals and I needed two goals to get things going.”
— Thunder forward Ian Lowe on scoring two goals in 29 seconds in Saturday’s win over Allen
Damian Surma’s overtime goal gave Rapid City a 2-1 win over the Thunder in Rapid City, S.D.
Wichita had the only score through two periods, a power-play goal by RG Flath. Rapid City pulled even at 3:08 of the third period with a power-play goal of its own.
Rapid City goalie Tim Boron frustrated the Thunder, making 48 saves, 20 of them in the third period.
The Thunder returns to action Friday at Denver, then returns home for games Saturday and Sunday.
First period — none. Penalties — Inman, Wichita (hookinh), 8:36; Masters, RC (hooking), 10:31.
Second period — 1. Wichita, Flath (Summers, Painchaud), 12:21 (pp). Penalties — Flath, Wichta (slashing), 9:36; Surma, RC (hooking), 11:48; Masters, RC (slashing), 15:19; Lutz, Wichita (interference), 18:55.
Third period — 2. Rapid City, Schultz (Surma, Brown), :37 (pp). Penalties — Lee, RC (interference), 6:26; Peto, RC (roughing), 17:33.
Overtime — 3, Rapid City, Surma (Schultz), 3:08.
Power plays — Wichita 1 of 5, Rapid City 1 of 3.
Shots — Wichita 14-13-20-2—49 , Rapid City 8-14-5-1—28.
Goalies — Wichita, Jung 28 shots, 26 saves; Rapid City, Boron, 49-48.
T — 2:35. A — 3,896.