Blue no more
The Thunder is well-represented among the Central Hockey League leading scorers and goaltenders — for those who have a good memory.
On those lists are several players who used to play in Wichita, but not many who currently do.
Such player movement within the CHL is hardly uncommon — rare is the player who accumulates gaudy statistics with the same franchise. The ex-Thunder players having standout seasons are perhaps more noticeable this year because of Wichita’s struggles.
“This year, obviously, hasn’t been going the way we wanted it to,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “… There’s going to be guys coming and going, and I always want to see ex-Thunder players go and do well. It’s such a short career, and you want to see them get the most they can out of it, that’s for sure.”
Garrett Bembridge, who played three games with the Thunder in 2011-12, is the league’s leading scorer with 15 goals and 14 assists in 16 games.
His Denver teammates, Troy Schwab and A.J. Gale, helped bring the Thunder back to respectability in McClelland’s first season, 2010-11, by combining for 116 points. With the Cutthroats, they’ve each scored more than 100 points in about 80 games.
The goalie for part of the two seasons before McClelland came aboard, Tim Boron, has helped Rapid City to the league’s best record with the second-best goals against average. Right behind him is, surprisingly, Grant Rollheiser of the expansion franchise in Brampton, Ontario. He played seven games in Wichita last year.
“He played some not-bad hockey for us last year,” McClelland said of Rollheiser. “We kind of kept his dream alive a little bit. He was running out of options before he came in here. But he’s such a class act, and it’s no surprise to me that he’s doing well because he’s a great person and he’s got a great pedigree.”
In addition to those CHL stars, former Thunder captain Daniel Tetrault is a valuable defenseman in Allen, where the Americans are tied for second place with Denver and where he was recently joined by Greger Hanson, one of the league’s top rookies last season in Wichita.
Defenseman Justin Sawyer is with Boron in Rapid City, and Tulsa’s improvement has been spurred, in part, by former Thunder teammates Jarred Mohr and Nathan Lutz. Mohr scored a game-winning overtime goal in Wichita earlier this month.
Gale, Schwab and Hanson were unprotected on Wichita’s roster after their seasons here because they wanted to pursue opportunities at higher levels. McClelland affords those opportunities and doesn’t hold it against his former players when they return to the CHL with rival clubs.
“I’m never going to hold a guy back in his career,” McClelland said. “No one ever did that to me, and there’s no way. The window of opportunity in hockey to try to get to where you want to go, be successful and get the most out of it, you can’t make a guy sit for a year. That’s just crazy, man. I’m never going to be that guy.”
• Forward Erick Lizon, an enforcer, rejoined the Thunder on loan from Oklahoma City of the American Hockey League. Lizon accumulated 234 penalty minutes in parts of two seasons in Wichita starting in 2010-11 and could give the Thunder the physical presence it has been missing.
• Tulsa took a 10-8 decision from Allen last weekend, and the boxing-round score was appropriate. The teams combined for 101 penalty minutes, including eight fighting penalties. Tulsa scored four goals on a single five-minute power play during the second period, and Oilers forward Todd Robinson notched a seven-point game with two goals and five assists.
Jon Booras, inching closer to becoming the first Thunder player to sustain a positive plus-minus rating, is plus-1 over his last five games. He has four points in that span, including his first two goals.
Wichita has scored multiple even-strength goals in four of 48 regulation periods.
Tap of the stick
A former bottom-feeding team slowly pulling away from the reeling Thunder is Arizona. The Sundogs have won five straight after a 1-8-1 start and have allowed 10 goals during the streak.
Thunder players Jon Madden and Tomas Klempa are participating in KFDI’s Adopt-a-Thon program, which aims to raise money for gifts for underprivileged children in Wichita.
The Thunder is winless at home (0-7-2) after delivering 49 wins at Intrust Bank Arena over the last two seasons.
He said it
“If you don’t want to make mistakes, simplify it.…You can’t make those turnovers. When things are going bad like this, you can’t do that. We can’t put ourselves in this position.”
— McClelland after miscues doomed the Thunder in a loss to Rapid City on Saturday