The Thunder has been the wrong team this season for injured players hoping to feel missed.
Whenever a player has been forced to miss time, even one of Wichita’s best, another player has admirably filled his skates, helping the Thunder accumulate the best record in the CHL.
Aaron Davis’ contributions have been absent for more than a month, and the Thunder’s success without him gives him mixed emotions — he realizes little pressure will be on him once he returns, perhaps as soon as tonight, but his inability so far to provide tangible support to Wichita’s postseason run has been psychologically painful.
The Thunder continues its quest for the CHL championship tonight when it plays host to Texas in Game 1 of the Berry Conference finals, a best-of-seven series.
Davis was a late scratch in Wichita’s first-round series-clinching Game 5 win over Rio Grande Valley on Saturday, and Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said there’s a "real good chance" Davis plays tonight, noting that Davis has been "solid all week" in his return to practice.
"I’m glad the boys did really well in the first round," Davis said. "(But) it’s tough, especially this time of year, to be out. I don’t want to come in and hurt the team in any way. They’re doing really well right now and I don’t want to come in if I’m not ready and hurt the team."
Davis has battled an unspecified lower-body injury — the Thunder has declined to provide specifics — for most of the second half of the season. He missed three weeks in late January and early February before returning for a two-week stretch during which he scored seven points in eight games.
The injury proved too significant, and Davis played his last game on March 2. Though Wichita’s depth has the Thunder built to withstand attrition, Davis has been missed. Few players embody Wichita’s style as well as Davis, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound forward who plays physically but deftly.
Davis was tied for second on the Thunder with 72 points last season, and he was well on his way to a similar 2011-12 total. He’s effective in all shifts, is a productive playmaker and his sheer volume of shots on net makes him difficult to replace.
The Thunder’s adaptability keeps any one player from outplaying the system — one of the reasons Wichita had no players on the All-CHL team — but Davis’ skills are rarely matched. At 32, he’s the Thunder’s most experienced player.
"I want to be as soon as possible, every game," Davis said. "But sometimes you have to bite the bullet and do what’s best for you. And the guys have been doing well, so it hasn’t been really too stressful this last week since they got the last series wrapped up."
Davis has made his desire to play known to McClelland, who opts for the advice of trainers and doctors over the emotional pleas of his players.
The relationship is a respectful one, so when given the idea to overrule his coach by announcing he was going to play no matter what, Davis was understandably hesitant.
"I probably wouldn’t say that to him," Davis said. "But he knows. I’ve been with him for three years now, and we have a pretty good relationship like that. I talk to the trainer and tell him how I feel every day, and at the end of the day I think it will be McClelland’s decision."
Davis said he feels 75 percent healthy. That number has crept up this week, his first time on the ice since he aggravated the injury. It will probably continue to rise, either when Davis heals further or when he decides he has had enough of not playing and adds a percent or two to his status.
"(McClelland) knows when is the best time to put me in if need be," Davis said. "This week has gone really well — it’s been the best week so far in the last month. Hopefully things stay with this and just improve more. Hopefully I can get in, maybe this weekend, or even next week would be great."