Thunder players lingered on the ice after beating Rio Grande Valley on Saturday, a victory that allowed Wichita to advance to the Berry Conference finals.
The occasion was joyous, with players soaking in adulation from a vocal and passionate crowd of 4,516 at Intrust Bank Arena. Goalie Adam Russo was the last to head up the tunnel to the locker room, reluctant to allow such a pleasing moment to end.
Wichita earned such a response and it has deserved the more subdued days that have followed. After beating the Killer Bees in five games, the Thunder is in the midst of six off days that conclude when the conference finals start Friday in Wichita.
The top-seeded Thunder will play Texas, which eliminated Allen with a 4-2 win on Tuesday night in Game 6 of their series.
"It’s a good series for us to get this out of the way," Thunder forward Chris Greene said on Saturday night. "We’ve got the whole week to sit here and rest. But we’ve got to get back to work for the whole week."
Tuesday was the Thunder’s first day of practice since it wrapped up its first-round series. Coach Kevin McClelland customarily orchestrates brief-but-intense workouts, and that approach is unlikely to change during the postseason.
The brevity of practices enables the Thunder to save its collective legs for the physical style it has relied on this season, but occasionally vigorous drills keep Wichita in an optimal mental state.
"This time of year, there shouldn’t be any rust," McClelland said. "There better not be any. The guys know what’s at stake and I think the rest will do us good. After Christmas and in the last few games in the season we were playing a couple guys short in the lineup all the time, and I think that’s why the rest will do us good."
The Thunder may regain the services of playmaking forward Aaron Davis when it resumes playing on Friday. Davis hasn’t played since March 2 because of a lower-body injury; his status remains unknown but he was a late scratch on Saturday.
The possibility of having Davis back is just one reason why Wichita could be eager to end its between-series layoff. The Thunder is hardly built for long rest — as seen in the Rio Grande Valley series, its strength is playing with momentum, picking apart opponents and wearing them down over the course of a game or a series.
"We went out and had a terrific practice (Tuesday)," McClelland said. "It was a demanding practice, but the guys responded in a great way and we’re starting to think about the next series, for sure."
Thinking about the next series is a luxury Wichita’s opponent hasn’t had. Texas endured a grinding series that will quickly carry over into the conference finals in Wichita.
"We’re hoping that they tire each other out,” Russo said, “and that’s pretty much big for us.… Practices and games are big differences. Being in game situations all the time is very key. We’ll work hard all week and we’ll be ready for whoever it is."