The 6-3 score by which the Thunder defeated Bloomington on Saturday night at Intrust Bank Arena didn’t look much different than many of Bloomington’s games — the Blaze are the Central Hockey League’s highest scoring team and the second-worst defensively.
The game itself didn’t look much the same, though. Wichita set a tone early for a physical game and lured the fast-paced Blaze into a style of hockey more suited for the Thunder.
Wichita’s aggressiveness was exhibited at the right times as it rebounded from a Bloomington rally in the second period. The Thunder held Bloomington to 22 shots, 10 below its average, as goalie Torrie Jung won his first start after a four game absence due to injury.
The Thunder lost Friday night on the road 4-0 to Allen and said it wasn’t so much the opponent that brought out its meanness, but the hangover from the previous night and the vengeful feelings it produced.
"It was not so much about them, it was trying to rebound from (Friday) night’s effort and being physical," Thunder forward Matt Summers said. "…We had to play rough. We have to play rough every night these days. It’s crunch time."
Wichita took Bloomington out of its comfort zone immediately, though the Thunder paid a price for doing so. Enforcer Aaron Boogaard drew a game misconduct penalty, which comes with an automatic ejection, for an illegal check to the head on a hit that sent Leo Thomas to the ice for several minutes in the first period.
Thomas eventually skated off but Bloomington never found a way to match Wichita’s physicality even though the Blaze often engaged the Thunder in mini-skirmishes near the goals.
Wichita used its edge to take a 3-0 lead, comfortable but not safe against a team that has scored four or more goals 27 times and features the league’s second-leading scorer. Jon Booras pushed his point total to 71 points with two second-period goals.
"Set the tone early and keep it throughout the 60 minutes," Summers said. "We haven’t played them in a while but I like their effort tonight."
Booras’ goals, including one on the power play for the first score of the second period, may have caught the Thunder off guard if only because the Blaze had shown little sign of being able to produce anything offensively.
Before it broke through, Bloomington’s passes were rarely crisp or accurate and the Blaze was outclassed by a Thunder attack that produced several scoring opportunities. Wichita was forced to regain its alertness when it’s three-goal lead shrunk to one on two occasions, including after Travis Granbois scored in the third to make it 4-3.
"In our rink we’re looking to win every game, it’s a place we’ve had success this year," said Jung, who returned after being hit in the throat by a puck on Feb. 19. "We knew Bloomington was offensive, but at the same time we weren’t overly concerned with them. We just wanted to play our hockey."
The Thunder eventually wore down Bloomington, whose offensive stats show a third-period dropoff, with depth that the Blaze doesn’t possess. Ten players scored Saturday for the Thunder and five players had multiple points. Summers, RG Flath and Chad Painchaud each scored three.
Wichita has seven players with at least 40 points and their shifts feature little dropoff. The balance allows the Thunder to remain fresher and faster than its opponents, an important factor with 11 games remaining before the playoffs.
"It’s really huge to have a deep team at this time of year," Summers said. "All year long it’s good to have a deep team. We’re throwing all three lines at them and playing all the (defensemen). It’s good to have a deep team no matter what time of year it is, but especially this time."
Scoring—1. Wichita, Trimm PP (Inman, Martens), 11:20; 2. Wichita, Summers (Inman, Flath); 3. Wichita, Flath (Painchaud, Jung). Penalties—Wichita, Boogaard (illegal check to the head major, game misconduct), 4:30; Bloomington, Lutes (interference, unsportsmanlike conduct), 9:14.
Scoring—4. Bloomington, Booras PP (Rioux, Gilbert), 9:25; 5. Bloomington, Booras (Fidler, Lutes), 11:06; 6. Wichita, Painchaud (Summers, Flath), 13:43. Penalties—Bloomington, OConnor (high sticking), 2:15; Wichita, Inman (tripping), 8:56; Bloomington, Makway (roughing), 15:50; Wichita, Lutz (goalie interference), 18:25; Bloomington, Lutes (interference), 18:57.
Scoring—7. Bloomington, Granbois SH (Puntureri), 4:48; 8. Wichita, Robinson (Lowe, Trimm), 7:31; 9. Wichita, Painchaud empty net (Summers, Trimm), 19:06. Penalties—Bloomington, Fidler (hooking), 3:57; Bloomington, Gilbert (holding), 14:53.
Power play—Bloomington 1 for 3, Wichita 1 for 8. Shots—Bloomington 4-8-10—22, Wichita 14-14-14—42. Saves—Bloomington, Pelletier 36 on 41 shots; Wichita, Jung 19 on 22.