Nobody has been more productive for the Thunder this season than its seamstress.
Another slew of transactions for a team desperate for stability preceded its latest defeat Friday, as Wichita fell to Brampton 3-2 at Intrust Bank Arena.
Different names sewn onto the back of the sweaters, nor the players that represent them, have made a difference. Goalie David Brown took the loss in his Thunder debut hours after Torrie Jung was waived to create a roster spot.
Jung led the Thunder to the Central Hockey League finals last year, taking over for injured starter Kevin Regan and winning 24 of his 34 regular-season starts. Jung’s numbers regressed this year, in part because of a porous defense coach Kevin McClelland is trying to patch up.
“You’ve got to make moves,” McClelland said. “When another goaltender becomes available, you have to make sure the salary cap matches up, too, so there’s a lot of decisions involved in that.”
Wichita traded Karl Linden, who played seven games for the Thunder, to St. Charles to make room for Jon Madden’s return from injured reserve. Brown became the 32nd player to inhabit the Thunder’s roster this year, though goalie is often a regularly evolving position even for successful teams.
Last season, Wichita employed 28 players and kept the core together for another crack at a championship that is slowly becoming a distant image.
The Thunder has lost three players from this year’s roster who helped it to a finals appearance – Jung and forward Thomas Beauregard, who aided a deep postseason run in 2011-12, were waived, and defenseman Travis Wight retired this week.
“That’s the way it goes when you have a few losses here and there,” Thunder forward Ian Lowe said. “Nobody is safe, and it’s sad to see somebody go, but that’s the way things go in pro hockey. We’ve just got to welcome somebody new to the dressing room and try to keep going and try to win a game.”
Though many players are probably safe, for now, from the roster upheaval, that might not last long. McClelland began the process trimming players who were overmatched, but now has begun waiving more recently reliable players such as Jung and Beauregard.
It may create some unease in the locker room, and there’s probably no good way for players to mentally approach the situation. Playing comfortably and relaxed can lead to mistakes, and tension over whether one’s job is on the line, while possibly creating urgency, also has its drawbacks.
“There’s both ways to looking at that,” McClelland said. “It’s not up to me – guys in that room should never feel comfortable and (should) know that you’ve got to (play well) all the time. There’s a lot of hockey players out there, and it’s a tough racket. You have to go out and prove yourself night-in and night-out.
“Are you always going to have good games? No, but when it starts being consistent that you’re not bringing what you brought last year or the year before, or what we thought you were going to bring this year, then it’s time to make changes.”
The challenge for McClelland is to not create scapegoats when the losing has been mostly a collective effort. His patience, however, is thin, as 16 players have played no more than half of the Thunder’s games – though some missed time due to injury.
Removing emotion from the process, though, is sometimes easier said than done.
“Torrie Jung did a lot for our organization, got us a long ways last year,” McClelland said. “Guys like that, it’s always tough (and) you never get used to it as a coach. You try and do things to improve your hockey club, and that’s never going to quit, that’s for sure. Things come available and I’m going to try and jump on them.”
Scoring—1. Wichita, Walker (unassisted), 1:30; 2. Brampton, Woodley SH (Collins, MacIsaac), 3:58. Penalties—Brampton, Michel (high sticking), 3:48; Wichita, Martens (tripping), 4:17; Brampton, Michel (interference), 5:50; Wichita, Dudas (holding stick), 15:39; Brampton, McQuade (elbowing), 17:51; Wichita, Martens (hooking), 19:21.
Penalties—Wichita, Gruenke (tripping), 0:08; Brampton, Vandehogen (fighting major), 4:43; Wichita, Gruenke (fighting major), 4:43; Brampton, Woodley (holding), 9:06; Brampton, Michel (hooking), 13:52.
Scoring—3. Brampton, Caruana PP (Pitton, McQuade), 5:54; 4. Wichita, Booras PP (Dudas, Martens), 10:39; 5. Brampton, Wild (Pitton, Vandehogen), 14:13. Penalties—Wichita, Gruenke (tripping), 1:50; Wichita, Donaghy (boarding), 4:31; Brampton, Woodley (interference), 7:12; Brampton, VanderVeeken (hooking), 10:01; Brampton, MacIsaac (holding), 15:06.
Power play—Brampton 1-6, Wichita 1-8. Shots—Brampton 7-3-8—18, Wichita 12-8-11—31. Saves—Brampton, Westblom 29-31, Wichita, Brown 15-18.