Wichita Thunder centerman Paul Kelly was the first player to score a goal in Intrust Bank Arena — a crowd-pleasing feat that will forever be noted in the team's record book.
Kelly also did a commendable job on the penalty kill on Saturday night — nearly anonymous work that was likely only noticed by teammates and serious students of the game among the sellout crowd.
"People come out to see goals, not to see you kill penalties, you know?" Kelly said.
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Indeed, serving on the PK unit is draining and thankless, comparable to playing on the offensive line in football — no one notices you until you make a mistake.
"It's a lot of work — much more work than the power play because of all the stops and starts and everything," Kelly said. "If it's a long shift, it can be two minutes of penalty killing.
"It's a pride thing — no one wants to get scored on — but it's not really fun."
Even so, the Thunder has been enjoying a measure of satisfaction on the PK recently. While the team is last in the 15-team Central Hockey League in several important categories (goals for, goals against, power play), the penalty kill has climbed to 12th because of its recent success.
In the past two games, a victory at Tulsa on Friday and a loss in the Arena opener on Saturday, the Thunder killed 16 of 17 penalties. In the past seven games, the Thunder is 38 for 40 on the kill for a .950 percentage.
The Thunder (4-30-3) will try to continue the positive PK trend against Mississippi (20-15-4) tonight at Intrust Bank Arena.
Increased communication, Kelly said, has been the key.
"We changed our system a little bit to where we're not over-pursuing the puck so we don't get caught out of position," he said. "We've been working on it a little in practice, so everybody knows where the other guy is gonna be. We can't have two guys chasing one guy with the puck."
Interim coach Jason Duda attributes the impressive results, in part, to the Thunder's improvement on face-offs. At Christmas, the team was winning only about 38 percent of the draws — a number that has risen substantially lately thanks to Kelly, Kevin Cooper and Ryan Campbell.
"Puck possession is very important," Duda said. "If you're not chasing the puck, you're not wasting energy."
Another more obvious reason is the play of goalie Ian Keserich. He has started six of the past seven games, a stretch of strong outings that has increased his saves percentage to .931 in Wichita.
"When you're getting great goaltending, it makes your penalty kill look really good," Duda said.
Brad Thompson and Brent Ottmann, who have combined for 20 points, don't score much, but they do get a lot of time on the penalty kill, and Duda fears their work is underappreciated. That might be true among fans, but not in the dressing room, Kelly stressed.
"If you have a good penalty killer, he can change the game," Kelly said.