Wichita Thunder coach Kevin McClelland is not one to condone excuses.
There were none to be made on Wednesday night after the Thunder suffered just its seventh defeat at Intrust Bank Arena this season, a 3-2 loss to Rapid City coming in the seventh round of a shootout.
Wichita still leads the Berry Conference by eight points over Allen with seven games remaining. McClelland saw a fatigued squad playing its first home game in over two weeks, not a flawed one with concerns entering the Central Hockey League playoffs.
“What our hockey club has come through in the last six weeks is just amazing,” McClelland said. “To be disappointed, I can’t be disappointed for what we’ve been through … call-ups, travel, injuries. We’ve got a pretty proud group here. We didn’t have our best game tonight and that’s going to happen from time to time.”
McClelland has a theory on that, as well. The Thunder just completed the season’s longest road trip, including two weeks straight on the road and 17 days in between home games.
“When you come off a long road trip, you go home and lay around and get lounging. You get in a routine,” McClelland said. “There’s always a let-down, even when I played. We don’t want to use those excuses, though. We’ve got to find a way to overcome that. We’ve got to find a little bit more energy than we had (Wednesday).”
Wichita fell behind 2-0 in the shootout before it tied the score behind back-to-back scores from Matt Summers and Alex Bourret, playing in his first game in a month. But Thomas Beauregard, RG Flath and Chris Chappell were stopped and Rapid City escaped with a 3-2 victory after seven shooters.
The league’s most over-powering offense was impotent for much of the series finale against the Rush. Wichita led 2-1 after the second period, but Rapid City was the aggressor the entire evening.
Rapid City found its equalizer with a little more than five minutes to play in regulation on Konrad Reeder’s 36th goal of the season. The Thunder was out-shot in every period.
“We let them crawl back in and get us in a shootout,” Wichita’s Justin Sawyer said. “It’s really frustrating because we hate that team.”
That became evident seven minutes into the game, when three fights broke out in succession. Chris Chappell picked only his second fight of the season to begin the chain reaction that led to Erick Lizon and Dustin Donaghy dropping gloves immediately after. Bourret also received a fighting major in the third period.
It was the third game against the Rush in six days. The season series ended in a 4-4 draw.
“That’s just good, old-fashioned hockey,” McClelland said. “A couple of guys squaring off, having a little bit of a dance and snicker about it.”
Beauregard gave Wichita a 1-0 advantage in the first period, beating Rapid City goalie Tim Boron on the right side after a nifty pass from Bourret.
Justin Sawyer’s goal from the second period was poised to be the game-winner. It was Sawyer’s fifth goal in 57 games.
“I have a hard shot, but bad hands under pressure,” Sawyer explained. “So I don’t get too many shots off, but luckily that one went in.”
But the Thunder’s guard came down, something the team acknowledged after the game but was not yet concerned about.
“We’re going to use it as an eye-opener that we’ve got to sharpen up defensively,” Chappell said. “Every playoff game is going to be close, so we can’t afford to slip up at all.”
Wichita couldn’t get too cozy at home. After Wednesday night’s game, the Thunder hopped back on a bus to travel to Quad City for a game on Friday.
“That seems like all we’ve been doing lately, jumping on buses,” McClelland said.
Wichita, Hemingway, no; Robinson, no; Summers, yes; Bourret, yes; Beauregard, no; Flath, no; Chappell, no. Rapid City, Limpright, no; Schultz, yes; Circelli, yes; Perdicaro, no; Reaney, no; Reeder, no; Weselowski, yes.