The Wichita Thunder is reintroducing a concept to its fans: home-ice advantage.
An embarrassment at home in recent seasons — Wichita was worse at the supposedly friendly confines (3-26-3) than on the road (6-24-2) last year — the Thunder has made Intrust Bank Arena an unwelcome place for opponents under coach Kevin McClelland.
Entering tonight's game against former International Hockey League power Fort Wayne, the Thunder is 7-2-2 at IBA. If the Thunder disposes of last-place Fort Wayne, it will give the team four consecutive wins at IBA, matching the longest such streak since the 2007-08 season.
The victories have been impressive, too — one over defending Central Hockey League champion Rapid City and two against talent-rich Colorado.
"We feel confident going against any team in the league right now," McClelland said.
In those wins, the Thunder simply kept it "simple," said Jesse Bennefield, who leads the team in goals (10) and points (26).
"We're excited to play for such a great crowd in such a great facility," he said. "We're getting used to the ice surface, playing hard and playing our style of hockey. We like to run and gun a little bit, but we make sure and take good care of our defensive zone first."
The Thunder (9-8-2) has earned at least one point in nine straight home games, and weekend matchups against Fort Wayne (5-10-1) and Tulsa (9-12-1) offer chances to continue that streak.
"We have to stay focused and bear down," Bennefield said. "We need these points; they could be crucial later on."
Notes — Fort Wayne won the last three Turner Cup championships in the IHL before it joined the CHL. The Komets are 2-5-1 on the road.... Defenseman Andrew Martens, who leads the team's defensemen with six assists, was ill and did play in the Thunder's loss at Mississippi. He is expected back tonight. Goalie Marty Magers remains on injured reserve, so the goalie duo is Marc-Antoine Gelinas (6-1-1 in Wichita) and Peter Delmas (0-2-1).... Tab Lardner, who scored 25 goals for the Thunder in 2005-06, recently joined Fort Wayne.