The Thunder promised that it wouldn’t look past Rio Grande Valley in its first-round CHL playoff series, and so far Wichita has stayed true to that vow by winning the first two games at Intrust Bank Arena.
The Killer Bees had the ninth best record in the league during the regular season and the Thunder had the first, but the series has been perhaps more evenly matched than anticipated. Game three is tonight in Hidalgo, Texas.
Outside of a three-goal barrage by Wichita in the second period of Game 1, there is little separating the teams. Rio Grande Valley has scored first in both games and has gotten outstanding play in goal from Wylie Rogers and John Murray.
But the Thunder has stayed focused, neglecting to look ahead at a potential Berry Conference championship series with rival Allen in the next round. Wichita goalie Adam Russo has given the Thunder’s offense time to energize after slow starts in each game, saving 50 of the 53 shots he has faced.
"We needed to start off at home huge in front of our fans," Russo said. "For us, too, two home wins are so, so, so important."
Wichita’s advantages in the series are clear, and its biggest edge over Rio Grande is in its depth.
Though the Killer Bees took 1-0 leads in the first period of both games in Wichita, they were unable to build on it, and they suffered their first losses of the season in games in which they led after one.
The Thunder has worn down Rio Grande in both games, roping the Killer Bees into a style of game far better suited for Wichita. Alex Bourret’s hard hits and aggressiveness have set the tone, and though Rio Grande has made some adjustments, it can’t match the versatility Wichita has on all three lines and among its defensemen.
"Bourret running around hitting people, that’s what we need from him," Russo said. "He’s been a fire starter for us. He’s our spark."