After spending much of the season doing significant damage to opponents in the second period, the Thunder has suddenly become a dominant third-period team.
Wichita entered the third period tied in its most recent two games at home against Central Hockey League contenders Denver and Allen and outscored them both 3-0, turning close games into blowouts that weren’t really blowouts.
The Thunder is outscoring opponents 72-38 in second periods, a margin of 23 more goals than the overall advantage it has in the third.
Coach Kevin McClelland attributes the recent third-period performances not to a shifting trend, but to a growing sense of urgency as Wichita tries to overtake Fort Worth and Allen to get to the top of the standings. Allen visits Wichita on Tuesday night for the second straight game.
“The guys want to win,” McClelland said. “We’ve got the great crowds out there the last couple nights, and obviously they’ve helped us out big time. Guys want to win and they know they have to sacrifice when we’re going into the third period and it’s close.”
The circumstances entering the third periods against Denver on Saturday and Allen two nights ago were markedly different, but Wichita played them both to its advantage.
Against Denver, the Thunder scored a late second-period goal to tie the score and used that momentum to own the third. On Sunday, Wichita was facing four-plus minutes of penalty killing but ended up on the power play before that time lapsed and got three power-play goals in the third to beat Allen 4-1.
Wichita’s season may have turned on the final 20 minutes of the last two games. Losses to Denver and Allen would have made it more difficult for the Thunder to make up its deficit in the standings, but now Wichita has the first-place Americans in its sights, three points behind.
“Things are coming together for us and I think we’re getting the big goals when we needed them,” Thunder forward Ian Lowe said. (Saturday) night we needed that win against Denver, and to keep winning against (Allen), those are big two points in the standings.”
Perhaps the most impressive third-period showings have come from Thunder goalie Torrie Jung. Sunday was the completion of three straight starts for Jung, often a rarity but for Wichita a necessity because Kevin Regan is on injured reserve.
Jung didn’t get much rest even before Regan went on IR, as he’s started or played at least 40 minutes in the Thunder’s last 12 games. His stamina hasn’t suffered much, however, if the last two games are any indication.
“Since Regan went out we’ve gone a bunch of games now,” McClelland said. “(Jung) is taking it on his shoulders and doing a great job with it.”