Young settles in
Before this season Kevin Young had only played in the Central Hockey League — and in the United States — as a hired gun and somewhat of a good-luck charm.
Young joined Bossier-Shreveport for the final eight games of the 2010-11 regular season and was part of a Mudbugs championship. He played eight regular-season games with the Thunder last year on the way to a CHL Finals appearance.
The 30-year-old Young decided this season was the best time to find a more permanent home after he’d played for six European teams since 2005.
Wichita was the most logical spot because coach Kevin McClelland’s system accents Young’s strengths as a defenseman and because a Thunder partnership with Newman University allows Young to take business classes online.
"I definitely wanted to stay here after being around the team and organization," Young said. "I knew we were going to have some turnover on the roster and have another good chance to win it, so it made sense to stay here. I’m also getting to work on my education a little bit, too, to try to get that done."
If Young’s brief stay with the Thunder last season wasn’t enough of an indicator of the level at which he could produce over a full season, the previous years of his career were. Before joining Bossier-Shreveport in 2011, Young scored 61 points in 38 games playing in the Netherlands.
Young’s output that season was a sign of things to come. He’s been one of the Thunder’s best scorers this season, not just one of its best-scoring defensemen. He’s tied for fifth on the Thunder with 45 points, one off the CHL lead for defensemen.
Wichita highlights balanced scoring, a philosophy that includes defensemen. Three other Thunder defensemen have at least 24 points, but their offensive skills might not be as polished as Young’s, who was recently voted as having the league’s hardest shot.
"Defense gives me the opportunity that I don’t have to lead the rush, but if I want to join it that’s perfectly fine," Young said. "It’s pretty much the norm to be the fourth guy or, if we’ve got a good cycle going, then I can sort of start in and out from there."
Young’s value to the Thunder goes beyond his on-ice production. He is a longtime friend of Thunder forward Matt Robinson, as the two grew up near each other in British Columbia.
Robinson helped get Young to the Thunder last season and Young played a part in returning the favor this year. Robinson began the season with Alaska of the ECHL, but when he had the chance to return to Wichita, Young helped facilitate communication between Robinson and the team.
"He definitely influenced me coming here last year," Young said. "… This is a good team, and I knew that, and to come back and play with one of your best friends is always pretty fun. We were talking about that and hoping it would work out, and we were lucky enough to do that."
• If the playoffs began prior to Wednesday night’s game with Fort Worth, Wichita would meet No. 7 Quad City, which couldn’t organize its team in time to play its scheduled opener at Intrust Bank Arena. The teams have split six regular-season games, all but one of which was decided by two or fewer goals.
• Quad City coach Terry Ruskowski recently became the fourth CHL coach to reach 400 wins, joining Doug Sauter, Scott Muscutt and Chris Stewart. McClelland has 296 wins.
Thunder forward Chad Painchaud was named CHL Player of the Month for February, when he scored 17 points — seven goals, 10 assists — in 10 games. He tied for the league lead in plus/minus rating with a plus-nine for the month.
Robinson was suspended by the league for Wednesday’s game for slew-footing, the act of using a leg or foot to kick an opponent’s feet from under him. Robinson wasn’t penalized for the act during Sunday’s game, but it was discovered in a postgame review.
TAP OF THE STICK
Wichita’s Ian Lowe, RG Flath and Young are all in the CHL top eight in power-play goals.
The Thunder’s annual alumni game precedes Sunday’s game against Tulsa. Several former Thunder players will return to play against local men’s league players, including Seaon O’Reilly, Joe Blaznek and assistant coach Jason Duda.
Wichita’s average attendance at Intrust Bank Arena, second in home attendance behind Missouri. The Thunder owns a league-best 22-5-2 home record.
HE SAID IT
"At the beginning of games we were always falling behind. It’s good to see our team on our toes, not our heels, especially in our building.”
— McClelland after the Thunder scored the first three goals in consecutive nights against Bloomington and Missouri