The Wichita Thunder wanted to finish its regular season with a win and enter the Central Hockey League playoffs on a high note.
“We addressed that as a hockey club before the game, you can’t just turn on good habits and turn them off,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “We wanted to make sure that we went in on a positive note and playing to the best of our ability, because you can’t go out there and have a clunker and expect to show up the next day, you’re going to carry bad habits into the next game.”
Wichita finished with a 5-2 win over rival Missouri in front of a crowd of 10,264 which helped Wichita earn the league award best attendance this year.
The Thunder earned the second seed in the CHL playoffs, and will begin its series against Arizona with a game Thursday at Intrust Bank Arena.
Kevin Young started the scoring Sunday with his 23rd goal of the season with 14:54 remaining in the first period, setting a single-season Thunder record for goals scored by a defenseman.
“It’s a feather in your cap more than anything,” Young said. “It just says what kind of team we have here, and I’ve been the beneficiary of a lot of great plays by good players.”
A little more than a minute later Erick Lizon scored, followed by an Ian Lowe goal 1:46 after that.
Missouri scored a power-play late in the period, but Wichita dominated the period, outshooting the Mavericks 15-5.
“We went out with a bang in the first period and got the lead, but we knew (Missouri was) going to come back at us,” McClelland said. “They were playing for something big tonight, the home ice advantage, so you know they’re going to keep coming.”
The Thunder’s Chad Painchaud scored a long goal assisted by goalkeeper Torrie Jung 1:43 into the second period, then Missouri slowed Wichita’s offensive pressure.
But the Thunder found its first-period energy in the final period. The Thunder killed off a power play when Young was sent to the penalty box for high sticking, and eight seconds after he returned to the ice he topped off Wichita’s win with his second goal of the game.
“Our energy was great in the first, and it’s hard to keep that energy up the whole game, but I think we did a good job,” Young said. “(Missouri) sort of sat back and it made it a lot tougher to get through the neutral zone, and they were just hoping to capitalize on chances and get power plays, and when teams do that it’s harder to play, but we found a way through it eventually.”
With a win at Tulsa on Sunday, Allen clinched the CHL regular-season championship and top seed in the playoffs. Wichita finished second, one point behind Allen. The Thunder will begin the first round of playoffs at home on Thursday against seventh-place Arizona.
“Every team in the league this year is a great team. (Arizona is) going to give us all we want and we’re going to give them all they want,” McClelland said. “It’s going to be a long series I imagine, we’re just going to have to play good hockey.”
First period—1, Wichita, Young (Painchaud, Flath), 5:06. 2, Wichita, Lizon (Griffith, Boogaard), 6:11. 3, Wichita, Lowe (power play) (Inman, Martens), 7:57. 4, Missouri, Dickson (power play ) (Tochkin, Hepditch), 18:43. Penalties—Emmerson, Missouri (high sticking), 6:52; Summers, Wichita (hooking), 13:12; Martens, Wichita (hooking), 17:14.
Second period—5, Wichita, Painchaud (Jung), 1:43. 6, Missouri, Tochkin (Miller, Thinel), 9:56. Penalty—Hood, Missouri (illegal check to head), 19:32.
Third period—7, Wichita, Young (Madden), 6:19. Penalties—Young, Wichita (high sticking), 4:17; Flath, Wichita (hooking), 11:04.
Power plays—Missouri 1 for 4; Wichita 1 for 2.
Shots—Missouri 5-7-10—22; Wichita 15-6-5—26.
Goalies—Missouri, Corbeil 21 on 26 shots; Wichita, Jung 20 on 22 shots.
T — 2:20. A—10,264.