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Bob Lutz: Jung putting Wichita Thunder on his back

  • Published Wednesday, May 1, 2013, at 7:10 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, May 2, 2013, at 7:23 a.m.

Remember how Jonathan Quick got so hot in the goal during last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs for the Los Angeles Kings? And how Quick’s dominance helped LA win the Cup and win 16 of 20 playoff games in the process?

Well, a similar thing is happening with the Wichita Thunder and its goalie, Torrie Jung. He’s not just standing on his head in net for the Thunder, who have a chance to go up 2-0 against the Allen Americans on Thursday night in Texas in the CHL finals. Jung is doing cartwheels back there — he’s allowed just 13 goals in nine playoff games.

All nine have resulted in victories.

Jung isn’t pinching himself. He’s not following the same daily routine, fearful that if he steps out of the norm pucks will come crashing in around him. When I talked to him Wednesday he had just finished a casual lunch after the team’s practice and was hanging out with his teammates as they await Game 2.

“I try not to get myself into a specific routine just because I don’t like to be superstitious in any way,’’ said the 24-year-old Jung, in his first season with the Thunder. “I don’t like superstitions and I’ve never been superstitious in any way. I don’t have any superstitions whatsoever.’’

We won’t get into a debate about whether not having superstitions is a superstition itself. We’ll just say Jung is a red-hot goalie, boosted by an air-tight defense and a team that has rolled through the CHL playoffs with nine consecutive victories.

“Everybody seems to have come together at the right time,’’ Jung said. “This is the time of year when you want to peak as a team.’’

Wichita isn’t just peaking, it’s blowing the lid off. The Thunder has outscored opponents 31-13 in the playoffs, consistently scoring three or four goals per game while holding opponents to one or two. Jung has a couple of shutouts and three other games in which he and the Thunder defense have given up just one goal.

In the Stanley Cup playoffs for Los Angeles last season, Quick gave up 1.41 goals per game and had a .946 save percentage. For the Thunder in the CHL playoffs, Jung has allowed 1.42 goals per game and has a save percentage of .941.

“You see it all the time when a goaltender gets in a groove,’’ Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said.

But not like this. This is rare. Jung has put a fort around the Thunder’s goal, as impenetrable as a bank vault.

“I give Torrie a ton of credit for where we are,’’ McClelland said. “(Tuesday) night in our game, he made some unbelievable saves early to keep us in it until our nerves calmed.’’

Jung didn’t become the Thunder’s full-time starter until January, when the goalie he was sharing time with, Kevin Regan, was injured. Regan tried to come back in February, but went down again. Jung has been in the net since and is 33-7-4 as the starter, including the playoffs.

Considering the record of the Laredo Bucks was 49-72-11 the past two seasons, Jung is a pretty happy goalie. He played for the Bucks in 2010-11 and 2011-12 and the team just couldn’t stand up to most offensive attacks.

The Thunder is the best all-around team in the CHL. It scores, it defends and it fights, as evidenced by an end-of-the-game melee with Allen on Tuesday night. Winning Game 1 in a place where Wichita has struggled this season is a major achievement.

Wichita and Allen didn’t meet until Dec. 8 and it was the Thunder’s 22nd game of the season. Since then, the teams have played 10 times, including five times in 20 days from Feb. 9 to March 1. There aren’t a lot of birthday-party invitations being exchanged between players on the squads.

“And then you have the heightened intensity of the playoffs,’’ Jung said. “All together, it brings out emotion. A lot of emotion. It would probably be weird if there weren’t all the chippiness and big hits and yapping after big plays, honestly. That would seem more weird to us. This is just playoff hockey.’’

For now, Jung is slapping aside almost every shot that comes his way. He has 206 saves in the playoffs alone. Good luck, Allen, trying to get anything past him.

Reach Bob Lutz at blutz@wichitaeagle.com or 316-268-6597. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz

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