It's too early to make a judgment about the Wichita Thunder's penalty kill, but early results indicate the unit may be much improved.
The Thunder (2-3) is third in the 15-team Central Hockey League on the PK at 93.5 percent — a noteworthy performance given recent history.
Last season, the Thunder was ninth of 16 teams at 82.4 percent. Two years ago, the team was even worse: 13th at 79.6 percent.
This year's unit has succeeded in killing 20 consecutive penalties.
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Now, more surprising news. Coach Brent Bilodeau is none too impressed.
"The funny thing with the penalty kill is I'm not that happy with it," he said. "We could be better. I think we're living on borrowed time. There are just a few things systems-wise that need to be a little better."
The power play is eighth in the CHL at 13.9 percent. The Thunder has been last in that category the past two seasons.
"It's been OK," Bilodeau said. "With the skill we have this year, obviously we have guys who can make plays and make passes that we had a little bit of trouble with last year."
Mark Belanger leads with two power-play goals, while Mark Adamek has three power-play assists.
* Belanger didn't receive as much preseason attention as the Thunder's award-winning rookies from a year ago: Troy Ofukany (most improved) and Joel Hanson (rookie of the year). But Belanger is off to the best start. In four games, he has three goals and two assists. When the 6-foot-2 Belanger gets an open net, he is a good bet to finish. "He came into camp in a lot better shape," Bilodeau said. "He's quicker, stronger and more confident in his play."
* Kyle Bruce, a physical forward, is back in Wichita but may not play this weekend because his immigration paperwork hasn't been approved, Bilodeau said. The 6-foot, 200 pounder is tough, and he can also chip in points. Playing for the Thunder in 2007-08, he had 13 goals, 13 assists and 247 penalty minutes. "Obviously, he'll bring a little more juice, a little grit," Bilodeau said. "He's a positive-energy guy."
From the making-them-count department, centerman Glenn Detulleo has scored three goals on five shots. He has scored in four straight games.
The Thunder is last in the league in shots, averaging 23.
TAP OF THE STICK
The Thunder teamed with fans to raise $3,867 for the Brian S. Etheridge Memorial Fund. It was moving when Etheridge's wife and young daughter dropped the ceremonial first puck at Saturday's game.
The new "who has the worst piece of furniture contest" is the dopiest promotion since the WKRP turkey drop. The bit has two fans describe their ugliest piece of furniture, and the none-too-interested fans decide who "wins." I'm no marketing major, but I have no idea how someone talking about their smelly couch sells furniture. Now the "pizza scream" contest — that I'm down with.
The Big Number
Penalty minutes for Mike Batovanja, who has four majors.
HE SAID IT
"It got a little hairy there. Obviously, it's something we need to work on. We need to learn to play with a lead."
—Bilodeau, after his team gave up three late extra-attacker goals to Mississippi. The Thunder held on to win 4-3.