The Thunder has spent much of the season going back-and-forth with Allen for first place in the Central Hockey League's Berry Conference. Coach Kevin McClelland doesn't see that ending anytime soon.
Wichita was unable to create separation during a recent five-game winning streak. But the Thunder hasn't lost ground to Allen in losing its last two games. Allen leads the conference by two points, but Wichita owns a league-best 17 wins.
"You look at the remaining schedule for both teams, it's going to be very difficult," McClelland said. "We're going to have to really play good. We have a lot of quality games and teams left on our schedule. I don't think we really play many sub-.500 teams the rest of the year."
The schedule certainly doesn't get any easier for the Thunder, which plays tonight at home against Missouri. Never mind the teams Wichita plays, the grind of the final three months could be grueling, with many games packed into relatively few days.
By the time December ends, Wichita will have played 14 games, three more than it played in November. The Thunder had one stretch of three games in three days during the first 21 games, but it just had two of those stretches in 10 days and has seven remaining.
"It's always tough," McClelland said. "It makes for a lot of close hockey games, and guys have to make sure they get their rest. We came through it all right, but it gets a little rougher waters after Christmas time, too."
Wichita weathered the absence of its captain, defenseman Daniel Tetrault, who missed four games with a lower-body injury before returning on Sunday. The Thunder have three defenseman with positive plus-minus ratings, so Tetrault's absence wasn't damaging. His return is likely to provide an emotional lift.
"We were five for five in a row, and we played with five defensemen four or five games in a row," McClelland said. "They got through it pretty well. But with three games in three nights, I think that caught up with the defensemen."
With a second consecutive playoff berth in its sights, Wichita has the luxury of looking at the bigger picture. So far, the Thunder refuses, opting instead for a day-by-day approach.
"You have to," McClelland said. "We've got a daunting task after Christmas. We have a lot of games on the road that are tough. It's not the easiest to look forward."