At the end of the Thunder’s regular season, bus rides are getting longer and games are getting less emotionally meaningful.
But not for everybody.
Daniel Tetrault hadn’t experienced a long bus ride for nearly two months before Monday, when the Thunder traveled to Texas for their second-to-last road game of the season. He certainly hadn’t been a part of any games.
So as Wichita winds down its season, playing out the final four games before beginning the playoffs as the top seed in the CHL’s Berry Conference, Tetrault can provide one last burst of energy before the team’s collective enthusiasm jumps in time for the postseason.
"I’m very excited to be back with the guys," Tetrault said of being in Wichita during the team’s recent 15-day road swing. "They were on the road for such a long time that I hardly saw them. I missed them and it’s good to be back with the boys."
Tetrault, who returned to the lineup on Saturday, had been sidelined since Jan. 22 after suffering a groin injury and a sports hernia.
The only classified veteran on Wichita’s roster, Tetrault provides more than just energy. The 31-year-old, who has played for the Thunder in five seasons since 2005, regained the captain position while supplying the locker room with an authoritative voice.
"I haven’t been hurt that long in my 12-year career," Tetrault said. "You don’t really feel part of the team when you’re hurt. They were gone a lot during the two months and it gets pretty lonely back home. You do all your rehab work in the gym, but it’s not like being with the guys and on the ice."
Tetrault will spend the last week of the regular season getting in game shape for the playoffs. That was the goal once it was determined that Tetrault’s injury was serious and that he would be unable to contribute for a while.
On the ice, Tetrault gives Wichita a scoring defenseman — he holds the Thunder record for points by a defenseman. At 6-feet, 205 pounds, he’s a physical player in the mold of coach Kevin McClelland.
"He’s a big presence back there for us," McClelland said. "We obviously missed him when he wasn’t with our hockey club."
SLAP SHOTS• Thunder playoff tickets went on sale last week for the first two games at Intrust Bank Arena. Wichita, the top seed in the Berry, plays at home on Friday, March 30, at 7:05. Game 2 of its first-round series is Sunday, April 1 at 5:05. Tickets can be obtained by visiting the Thunder ticket office or contacting Select-A-Seat at selectaseat.com or 316-755-SEAT.
• Wichita has managed to build the CHL’s best record, eight points clear of any other team through Tuesday, without placing a player on the All-CHL team. That probably speaks more to Wichita’s depth than an oversight by the coaches who voted. The team was comprised of forwards Shawn Limpright (Rapid City), Brandon Marino (Quad City) and Todd Robinson (Evansville); defensemen Frankie DeAngelis (Fort Wayne) and Riley Weselowski (Rapid City); and Texas goalie Mark Guggenberger.
Wichita has gone 10-2 on the road since losing 5-0 at Allen on Jan. 27. In that stretch, the Thunder beat five projected playoff teams, including all four from the Turner Conference.
After missing a month with an injured ankle suffered when a puck hit it, Alex Bourret was helped off the ice after a similar play Sunday at Arizona. The worst-case scenario did not come to fruition, though, as Bourret was listed as active for Tuesday’s game at Texas.
TAP OF THE STICK
Matt Robinson took over eighth place on the Thunder’s career goals list with 72. It has taken Robinson less than two seasons to move into the top 10 — he had 39 goals last season and 33 for the Thunder through Tuesday.
For the season’s final regular-season home game, the Thunder is presenting "Fan’Demonium," the equivalent of Fan Appreciation Night. Prizes will be given throughout the 7:05 p.m. game against Evansville.
The number of wins the Thunder (44-16-3) needs to break the franchise record. Wichita finished 44-18-4 in 1994-95, the last time it won the CHL championship.
HE SAID IT
"We have more important things coming up. We just want to work toward the playoffs, because if you don’t win it all, it’s all for naught."
— Thunder defenseman Kevin Seibel