The Thunder is already unrecognizable from its previous two near-championship seasons, now coach Kevin McClelland is on his way, again, to making it official.
After Arizona beat Wichita 6-3 Friday night at Intrust Bank Arena, McClelland promised changes to a roster he believes isn’t too concerned with the team’s eighth-place standing and 11-16-4 record.
As Wichita nears the halfway point of a year following two consecutive trips to the Central Hockey League finals, any roster changes might not be to reach that level again but to help the Thunder even reach the playoffs at all.
“If (urgency) is not instilled in them by now, it’s not going to be,” McClelland said. “So obviously it’s time to shake the bushes. Get them out of here. Get a couple guys out of here, whether it’s trade or whatever, a couple guys need to go.”
It might be difficult for McClelland to narrow that list following the Thunder’s latest setback. At this point in the season, after Wichita dug a deep early-season hole, each win feels like a temporary reprieve while every loss seems catastrophic given the Thunder’s current position.
Arizona offered Wichita a humbling the Sundogs haven’t served this season. Their six goals were a season-high; Arizona reached five goals three times in 29 tries, including once in a win over the Thunder two weeks ago.
Friday, Arizona scored three unanswered third-period goals, assuming control after Matt Summers drew a penalty.
The Sundogs have loaded up their offense lately by adding players such as Brandon Coccimiglio and David Rutherford, who each delivered a pair of goals Friday, but Arizona is last in the league in scoring and has scored two or fewer goals in 12 games.
Arizona scored six times on 25 shots Friday, nullifying the efforts of Wichita goalie Taylor Nelson, who failed in his latest opportunity to become the full-time starter.
“We need one of those guys (Nelson or David Brown) to take the ball and run with it,” McClelland said. “As a coaching staff, that’s what we’re waiting for right now. Both have had great games and both have had subpar games, but one of them has to grab the bull by the horns.”
The Thunder’s assertive start to the third period seemed to be a carryover from the second, when it scored two goals in about six minutes to erase Arizona’s 3-1 lead. Matt Robinson scored to become the fourth Thunder player to reach 100 goals.
Robinson’s goal, nor two by Tomas Klempa – both assisted by Matt Summers – couldn’t carry the Thunder to the third-period lead or help Wichita escape the doldrums of the second half of the third.
A Summers penalty began a litany of mistakes by Wichita, which often failed to control the puck and took ill-advised shots in traffic. The Thunder kept up with Arizona in about as few opportunities over the first two periods, but a faster tempo served the Sundogs best.
“We turned it over in the neutral zone and … you can’t allow that,” McClelland said. “Then the back end (of the defense) played the puck instead of the man, and we just got walked, and in the net it goes.”
If and when McClelland makes changes, his most desired attribute is clear.
“Desperation,” McClelland said. “You look out there and you can see it, there’s not a lot of desperation. You’ve got to play, not just go out there and put your stick out there. We’ve got a lot of guys doing that right now.”
Scoring—1. Arizona, Rutherford (Coccimiglio), 0:27; 2. Wichita, Klempa (Summers, Dudas), 14:28; 3. Arizona, Coccimiglio (Rutherford, McIlveen), 15:08. Penalties—Arizona, Baker (unsportsmanlike conduct), 8:59; Arizona, McCready (roughing double minor), 15:49; Wichita, Walker (roughing double minor), 15:49; Arizona, Rutherford (tripping), 17:56.
Scoring—4. Arizona, Baker PP (Schultz, Engelage), 7:01; 5. Wichita, Klempa (Summers, Nelson), 7:32; 6. Wichita, Robinson (Dudas, Madden), 13:35. Penalties—Wichita, Martens (hooking), 5:22; Arizona, Ryd (slashing), 11:59.
Scoring—7. Arizona, Rutherford (Clarke), 2:59; 8. Arizona, Baker (Cameron, Clendenning), 9:34; 9. Arizona, Coccimiglio empty-net (unassisted), 18:08. Penalties—Wichita, Summers (tripping), 6:08.
Power play—Arizona 1-2, Wichita 0-3. Shots—Arizona 8-7-10—25, Wichita 14-9-8—31. Saves—Arizona, Engelage 28-31; Wichita, Nelson 19-24. T—2:23. A—4,021.