The Thunder has all the attributes of a winning team when no interested parties are watching.
If Wichita was playing as well at home this season as it has on the road, the Thunder would be two points out of third place. If the record at Intrust Bank Arena was equivalent to last season’s, Wichita would be two points out of first.
So far this season, however, only road fans have witnessed the Thunder of old, though Wichita is trying to change that. The Thunder scored its third home win in 14 tries Saturday night, beating St. Charles 3-2 thanks to a pair of third-period goals.
After five straight road games and three weeks away from Wichita, the Thunder left its current comfort zone for a familiar building that has produced anything but familiar results.
“Guys are always excited to come back home after a long road trip,” said Thunder forward Matt Robinson, who scored the game-winning goal in the third. “But it’s always in the back of our head – guys are reading the stat pack, seeing our road record that we’re above .500. Then you look at our home record and we’re 2-9 (before Saturday) or something like that.
“I don’t know what it is, maybe a little bit of nerves in front of the home crowd. We’ve got to get past that and try to find a way to win like we do on the road. If we play like we have been on the road, we’ll be fine.”
Wichita’s win Saturday was part of a more positive trend than the rough road record. The Thunder has won seven of its last 10 games — eighth-place Wichita is still as many points from seventh place as it is from last, but a hot streak could allow the Thunder to move up quickly as five teams have between 30 and 34 points.
The Thunder also avoided a letdown following its most lopsided win of the season, an 8-2 dismantling of third-place Tulsa on Friday to conclude the road trip. In that game, Wichita played a run-and-gun style more suited to an Oilers team that boasts five of the Central Hockey League’s top 12 scorers.
Last-place St. Charles isn’t suited for such an affair, and the Chill tried to dictate a more physical, plodding contest, establishing a tempo that the Thunder couldn’t wrest away until the final period. Wichita had six shots in the first period and a late second-period flurry got it to 11 shots in the second, but St. Charles led 2-1 entering the third.
“We’ve just got to find ways to get wins now,” said Thunder captain Andrew Martens, who contributed a pair of assists to cancel out a tough break in the second. “We didn’t play well in the first two, and we had to make up for it, whatever it took.”
It took a continuation of momentum instead of an old Thunder habit of allowing negative occurrences to fester. St. Charles took the lead on a power-play goal that was inadvertently knocked in by Martens’ skate, but Wichita quickly ridded itself of that memory.
Instead, the Thunder surged in the third, notching a goal from Nick McParland that just scooted past the goal line before being knocked out. Less than two minutes later, Robinson delivered his second game-winner this season on a rebound.
Being in a position to win a game – then winning it -- after two disappointing periods may be another indication that Wichita is pulling itself from the early hole.
“If that’s the way you want to look at it – that’s a good way to look at it,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “As coaches, you take a little more out of that. We had a big win (Friday) night, obviously, and I don’t think we came out the way we wanted to at home. At the end of the night, we found a way to end up getting the two points, so that’s a positive.”
Scoring—1. St. Charles, Perdicaro (OKane, Conboy), 13:36.
Scoring—2. Wichita, Booras (Robinson, Gruenke), 11:06; 3. St. Charles, Hinka PP (Snowden, Weiss), 16:19. Penalties—St. Charles, MacIntyre (slashing), 1:15; St. Charles, Anthony (hooking), 7:57; Wichita, Lowe (holding stick), 7:57; Wichita, Donaghy (tripping), 13:44; Wichita, Wilson (hooking), 15:47.
Scoring — 4. Wichita, McParland PP (Flath, Martens), 5:27; 5. Wichita, Robinson (Martens, Lowe), 7:09. Penalties—St. Charles, Snowden (slashing), 3:55; Wichita, M. Wilson (holding), 13:50.
Power play—St. Charles 1-3, Wichita 1-2. Shots—St. Charles 9-4-8—21, Wichita 6-11-7—24. Goalies—St. Charles, Lundin 24 shots, 21 saves; Wichita, Brown 21-19.