RG Flath is having his best season in professional hockey and he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s happening for the Wichita Thunder.
“Mac (Thunder coach Kevin McClelland) recruits smart players and kind of lets them do their thing,” said Flath, who has played for six Central Hockey League franchises in six years and has played the past season and a half in Wichita. “There’s a fatherly thing there, but he knows how to light a fire under your butt if you want to stay here.”
Flath, 28, and his teammates are winding down a regular season in which they haven’t quite been able to get up the hill and catch first-place Allen. But the Thunder is close, six points behind the Americans and one point behind of second place Fort Worth.
Flath is part of a balanced scoring attack. He and teammate Matt Summers are 10th in the CHL in scoring, one spot behind the Thunder’s top scorer, Neil Trimm, who has 56 points.
With 13 games remaining in the regular season, Flath has already reached a career high in points (53), goals (24) and assists (29).
And he loves dogs.
In September, Flath and his girlfriend, Cassie, adopted a German Shorthaired Pointer/Labrador Retriever mix they named Mitts, because his front paws look like mittens.
Then, concerned that Mitts didn’t have a playmate, they adopted a Pointer they named Ace.
“At first, we didn’t know if we made the right call getting the second dog,” Flath said. “Our older dog didn’t know what to think. He thought it was a new toy and played kind of rough.”
But things have settled down, Flath said, and the dogs get along famously.
“Most of us hockey players are really pretty soft when we’re not on the ice,” Flath said, explaining his affinity for dogs. “It’s just that on the ice is a different way of life. I grew up with dogs, but ever since I started moving away from home and being by myself, I never wanted to have one. It would be fair with all the road trips we have.”
When Flath is gone now, the dogs are left in the capable hands of his girlfriend, who is in management with Victoria’s Secret.
You think he hears about that from his teammates?
“I think all the guys are jealous,” Flath said. “They don’t really tell me, but I think at least their girlfriends and wives are jealous because Cassie gets discounts, free bras, things like that.”
Flath, who grew up in Park City, Utah, and went to college at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, broke into the CHL with the Oklahoma City Blazers in 2007-08. He spent only 10 games in OKC before being sent to the Austin Ice Bats. He has since played for the Rapid City Rush, Corpus Christi IceRays and Mississippi RiverKings.
He played briefly with Copenhagen and with the Sheffield Steelers of the Elite Ice Hockey League in England last season before joining the Thunder 24 games into the CHL season.
In 95 games for Wichita, Flath has 92 points.
“You look at our team and we have six guys in the top 20 in scoring,” Flath said. “You can’t ask for anything more than that. It seems like when guys come to play for (McClelland) we seem to have outstanding years.”
Even so, the Thunder hasn’t been able to reach the top of the CHL standings in a while now. The team is 20-5-2 at home, the best record in the league, but only 10-11-5 in road games.
And two of Wichita’s remaining three games against the Americans will be in Allen. The Thunder also has a road game left to play at Fort Worth.
“The league has been unbelievable this year with everyone stacked so close together,” Flath said. “We don’t have as many teams this year, which means there are more skilled guys on every team. Last year, the bottom teams in the league weren’t nearly as good. Tulsa would have been in the middle of the pack last year and this year they’re at the bottom. It’s amazing how much tougher the league has gotten with a fewer amount of teams. I think it’s a great thing.”
Flath hopes to stay in Wichita this summer and help with a junior hockey camp. He said he’s done private lessons and camps in other cities throughout his professional hockey career and wants to give the sport a jump with Wichita’s kids.
Sounds like Flath wants to put down roots, which can always be a difficult thing for minor-league hockey players. But with a girlfriend and two dogs, maybe it’s time.