The Thunder’s schedule isn’t getting any less difficult over the final 20 games, but it may finally be getting more manageable.
After seeing several top players suffer injuries over the past month, Wichita is getting healthy again. Thomas Beauregard and Colin Hemingway, who missed two months, are the most recent Thunder players to return from long-term injuries.
There are still three on the injured list — Aaron Davis, Daniel Tetrault and Tyler Miller — but Wichita’s improved collective health is finally allowing it to view the big picture.
The Thunder remains in first place with a two-point lead over Allen in the Berry Conference. A healthier roster enables Wichita to concern itself with holding onto that lead, rather than a combination of fending off Allen while trying to get its best players healed.
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"We get them back and there’s still a few guys sitting on the shelf," Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. "We’ve just got to make sure that when we do get them back, we keep them healthy."
Wichita plays at home against Laredo tonight before playing three games in three days starting Friday, when it hosts Quad City.
The middle game of that stretch is at Missouri — it’s not a difficult trip, but it marks the first time this season that the Thunder has a road game sandwiched in between two home games on three consecutive nights.
Wichita plays on back-to-back-to-back nights four more times. It’s in for a grueling last six weeks, but plenty of important divisional games remaining should keep the Thunder focused.
"I’d just like to get away from playing all these (four games in five nights) and three-in-threes," McClelland said. "But it looks like that’s what we’re going to be doing until the end of the season."
A grinding schedule may have been most to blame for a third-period letdown against Rapid City on Saturday, when the Thunder allowed three third-period goals in a loss in front of more than 13,000 fans at Intrust Bank Arena.
That game concluded a three-game weekend stretch that saw Wichita win an emotional game at Allen before returning to Wichita to dispatch bitter rival Tulsa in a shutout.
The loss ended a six-game winning streak, so while it wasn’t expected, it was excusable at the end of an otherwise satisfying weekend.
The Thunder has proven it can win without many of its productive players, and that will continue to be a test.
While the injury list isn’t as crowded as it was two weeks ago, it still includes defensemen Miller and Tetrault, further depleting a corps that lost Andrew Martens to his second promotion to the AHL last week.
"We’ve got lots of depth and we’ve got a proud group of guys in that dressing room," McClelland said. "They like winning. Winning is contagious. Guys get a taste of it and everybody wants it."