If you expect your rookies to come in the timid, unsuspecting, self-doubting variety, Jon Madden is the wrong rookie for you.
As shown Friday in the Thunder’s 9-5 win over Denver at Intrust Bank Arena, Madden is completely sure of himself. On a Wichita team of veterans and high-scoring forwards, Madden makes an impression the best way he knows how — by involving himself in every single instance a game turns physical.
Opponents hate him for that approach but Madden’s teammates love the way the first-year defenseman can unnerve an enemy. In Friday’s high-scoring game, Wichita’s five power-play goals made a major difference and Madden was at least partly responsible even though he didn’t score or assist on any of them.
Madden lured Denver into penalties that set up some of those scores, including a game misconduct on Adam Smyth that gave the Thunder a man-advantage for the first five minutes of the third period. Wichita scored eight goals in the final two periods and clinched its third straight playoff berth.
"There’s a lot of good hockey players dressing in that room, and I just try to chip in any way I can," Madden said. "It really makes those guys angry when you go out there … I play a hard clean, game. I like to throw my weight around, I’m a big boy. Those are my kinds of games, for sure."
As the second-period buzzer sounded, Denver was still peeved by the charging penalty Madden drew about two minutes earlier. Nearly every player on the ice engaged in a scuffle at center-ice, but Smyth became more involved than most, earning penalties for fighting and instigating.
Madden expects his bruising play to irritate opponents and can sometimes target players most liable to cross the line.
"When you have a big enforcer like Smyth coming at you, I know I’m not going to be able to take that guy," Madden said. "I was just hoping and praying that he would take a dumb penalty on me, and that’s exactly what he did. With those kind of players, you know they’re loose cannons, and you can take advantage of stuff like that."
It’s difficult to slow down Denver, as the Cutthroats have three players among the CHL scoring leaders, but Madden’s roughness permeated his teammates and brought speedy, skillful Denver into a game it isn’t accustomed to.
Madden takes pressure off his teammates when he dictates the physical aspect, allowing teammates to focus on their strengths while contributing hard hits sporadically. Madden is also willing to fight; Friday he dropped gloves with JP Chabot and won decisively.
"Anybody who’s willing to step in make contributions where (he) can is a great bonus to any team," Thunder captain and fellow defenseman Andrew Martens said of Madden. "You rarely get rookies that come in and are ready to play. He’s one of those guys that’s got grit on his shoulders, and he can play with the best of them."
The Thunder last scored nine goals in January 2005. Friday, Wichita dictated the pace physically and eventually with its skill. Denver took a 2-1 lead in the second period, forcing the Thunder to re-focus after lulling itself into a false sense of security by outshooting the Cutthroats 15-4 in the first period.
Wichita has earned a point in the standings in 11 straight home games and outscored Denver 29-9 in four games at Intrust Bank Arena.
Scoring—1. Wichita, Summers (Flath, Inman), 14:48. Penalties—Denver, Fulghum (goalie interference), 11:21; Denver, Bedard (tripping), 16:44.
Scoring—2. Chabot PP (Gauthier, Fulghum), 4:08; 3. Denver, Gale (Gauthier, B. Smyth), 5:10; 4. Wichita, Lowe (Robinson, Mohr), 8:59; 5. Wichita, Lowe PP (Trimm, Jung), 11:47; 6. Wichita, Trimm (Robinson, Wight), 15:53; 7. Wichita, Young PP (Trimm, Lowe), 16:49; 8. Denver, Fulghum (Gauthier, Trebish), 19:52. Penalties—Wichita, Inman (hooking, 2:24); Wichita, Lowe (hooking), 5:42; Denver, Bedard (too many men bench minor), 10:23; Wichita, Summers (high sticking), 12:18; Denver, Tesoriero (roughing), 14:40; Wichita, Reaney (roughing), 14:40; Denver, Gale (cross checking), 16:27; Wichita, Madden (charging), 17:51; Denver, A. Smyth (instigator, fighting major, fighting instigator misconduct, no category misconduct), 20:00; Wichita, Jung (unsportsmanlike conduct), 20:00.
Scoring—9. Wichita, Flath PP (Martens), 3:42; 10. Denver, Gale (B. Smyth, Schwab); 11. Wichita, Martens PP (Young, Lowe), 10:55; 12. Wichita, Flath PP (Reaney, Summers), 13:39; 13. Denver, Chouinard PP (Schwab, MacQueen), 13:56; 14. Wichita, Trimm (Inman, Jung), 17:02. Penalties—Denver, Trebish (roughing), 10:24; Denver, Zimmerman (roughing), 10:24; Wichita, Lutz (roughing), 10:24; Denver, Schwab (interference), 13:31; Denver, Chabot (roughing), 13:44; Wichita, Madden (roughing double minor), 13:44; Wichita, Reaney (tripping), 18:32.
Power play—Denver 2 for 6, Wichita 5 for 7. Shots—Denver 4-15-11—30, Wichita 15-9-8—32. Saves—Denver, Millan 23 on 32 shots; Wichita, Jung 25 on 30.