The Thunder is in ninth place in a league that sends eight teams to the playoffs, but circumstances may be lining up just right for Wichita to escape its precarious positioning.
The last two months of the Thunder’s schedule includes just two games against the team, Rapid City, Wichita has yet to figure out. The rest is filled with duals against those the Thunder has played well against, and others that Wichita needs to beat to improve its postseason chances.
Wichita’s recent hot streak is occurring at the same time as the Central Hockey League’s frontrunners are struggling and when the middle-of-the-pack players are regressing.
Twelve points separate Wichita from the three teams tied for first, and the Thunder is seven points out of fourth place after reaching .500 (19-19-4) for the first time since the season’s second game. Wichita has 24 games left in the regular season.
“Now we just have to make sure we can keep it up with a couple more good runs here,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “You win a few, you have an advantage, but if you lose a few you have to battle all the way back.”
Wichita has won eight of its last 10 games but is not the league’s hottest team.
Arizona has earned at least one point in 12 straight games, winning 10, to stay one point ahead of Wichita. But while the Thunder and Sundogs are surging, many other teams are hitting a lull.
Tulsa just ended a six-game losing streak and is one point ahead of the Thunder with three more games played. None of Denver, Brampton or Quad City has more than four wins in its last 10, creating a cluster in the middle and bottom of the standings.
The Thunder plays Missouri and Allen, both tied for first, five times combined over the final 50 days. Wichita is 8-3-1 against those teams and 3-3-1 against Tulsa, which occupies seven of the final 24 games.
“It bodes well as long as you can win them,” McClelland said. “We’d like to see a couple of the lesser teams in your sights, but we don’t have that.”
Wichita’s fate might not be decided until the final week, when it plays three consecutive games at Arizona.
The Thunder’s second-line forwards, RG Flath, Matt Summers and Tomas Klempa, have a combined plus-15 rating since Jan. 13.
Thunder assistant coach Jason Duda’s time as one of the top three CHL career scorers appears to be coming to an end. Missouri forward Sebastian Thinel has 877 career points, one behind Duda in pursuit of Joe Burton (985 points) and Duda’s former Wichita linemate, Travis Clayton (982).
Tap of the stick
Missouri defenseman Henrik Odegaard will play for Norway in the Winter Olympics. Norway’s roster features one NHL player, New York Ranger Mats Zuccarello.
Kids Zone open
The Thunder opened a Kids Zone last week at Intrust Bank arena, behind section 108, featuring games, visits from Wichita mascot ThunderDog, and appearances by Thunder players during first intermission.
Matt Robinson has scored in five of the last seven games in which he has taken three or more shots. He leads the Thunder with 20 goals.
He said it
“Just get the job done. You’ve got to work twice as hard as they do and do whatever it takes to get that win.”
— Thunder captain Andrew Martens after a game-winning overtime goal against Denver last week