The urgency for the Thunder to acquire players to replace recently promoted Andrew Martens and Alex Bourret hasn’t completely set in, but it’s about to.
Since Martens, Wichita’s top-scoring defenseman, was called up to the AHL on Dec. 28, Wichita has won three of four games. During that stretch, Bourret, a forward who is the Thunder’s leading scorer, was also sent up to the AHL. Both were selected for the CHL All-Star game just before their promotions.
Road games make up the majority of Wichita’s second-half schedule, which begins with five in a row away from Intrust Bank Arena. That means lots of hours on a bus and lots of time for bodies to grow weary and fatigue to develop.
"It’s going to catch up on us soon," Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. "We’ve got about 60 hours on the bus in about the next five games. I’m really a little bit worried about getting through that with no injuries."
Without Bourret, whose 39 points are one ahead of Thomas Beauregard for the team lead, Wichita’s offense hasn’t suffered. The Thunder notched four goals in a loss to Quad City last Friday before beating Tulsa 6-2 the next night.
The defense has mostly remained strong, too, but that’s where the Thunder is most thin. Wichita is playing with five defensemen, leaving the third line short and forcing Kevin Seibel to move to the second line with Jarred Mohr.
Martens was promoted to the AHL last year but returned to the Thunder. That scenario seems unlikely to repeat itself, at least for the foreseeable future.
"We just got a call and I think Martens is going to be a long time up there," McClelland said. "That’s not going to help us. You just don’t replace guys like that. But we’ll move on and see if there’s any trades that will help out our team. Obviously, we’ve got to go and search for some defensemen now."
That might be easier said than done, as McClelland admits trades with CHL teams are difficult to execute. That would leave the Thunder to search for players in Europe or in lower-level leagues.
Those acquisitions would provide depth and give the Thunder a complete roster, but no move is likely to offset the loss of two players who gave Wichita much more. McClelland was active in helping Bourret and Martens reach a higher level, but their losses are bittersweet.
"It’s obviously good for those guys, but for the Wichita Thunder it’s not good," McClelland said. "You take a couple guys like that out of your lineup, it’s tough to compete. But we’ll find a way to do it."
• The Thunder’s lone representative in tonight’s CHL All-Star game is forward Matt Robinson, who was selected as a reserve for league All-Stars against the Arizona Sudogs in Prescott Valley, Ariz. Robinson, fourth for Wichita in scoring with 30 points, replaced Bourret. Robinson led Wichita with 39 goals in 2010-11.
• Wichita tied a season high for goals in a period with three against Tulsa in Saturday’s 6-2 win. Coincidentally, they matched that feat on Oct. 8 in a 6-2 win over the Oilers played at Tulsa’s BOK Center. The Thunder set its season best with seven goals in a Dec. 31 win over Evansville.
Four Wichita players rank on the top five in the CHL plus-minus leaderboard. Martens is first at plus-20, followed by Aaron Davis and Mohr, part of a three-way tie for second at plus-16. Robinson ranks fifth at plus-15. The Thunder has outscored opponents 117-91, a 26-goal differential that is second in the league behind Fort Wayne (117-85).
The Thunder allowed a season-worst 50 shots on goal in Friday’s 5-4 loss to Quad City. In their previous meeting, also a 5-4 Quad City win, Wichita allowed 44 shots. "That team, Quad City, always puts up a lot of shots," McClelland said. "They shoot everything to the net and they get good results out of it."
Tap of the stick
The Thunder ranks second in the CHL in attendance, drawing 5,680 fans per game. On Saturday against Tulsa, Wichita’s fiercest rival helped draw 6,410, a lower-bowl sellout of Intrust Bank Arena.
Erick Lizon leads the Thunder in major penalties with 11 and is second in penalty minutes, behind Justin Sawyer, with 95. He accumulated a relatively modest four penalty minutes against Tulsa on Saturday but was in the middle of much of the fighting and trash talking between the teams.
Wichita’s record in four-goal games. Its worst losses are two three-goal defeats by Tulsa and one against Evansville.
He said it
"We’re not going to take stuff from them. We’re going to go out, and if they want to mess with us, we can go. We’re the toughest team in the league."
— Lizon on Wichita’s physical game against Tulsa on Saturday