Matt Summers noticed something important about the Thunder’s effort Sunday in a 3-0 win over Missouri that was missing in Wichita’s two previous games, both losses.
“Just that there was an effort,” Summers said. “There was just an effort, that was all we needed. I don’t think we’ve gotten blown out of any games when we put an effort in.… All our games are close with just a little bit of effort. Imagine if we go over that hump, out of the comfort zone, and start taking over a little more of the games.”
A takeover of a 39-second stretch of the first period was enough for the Thunder to salvage the third of three weekend games after being handled Friday by the Mavericks at home and Saturday in a defeat at Tulsa.
Summers scored about halfway through the first, followed by a rare goal from bruising defenseman Jon Madden, his third of the season. That wasn’t Wichita’s only effective stretch, but those were the 39 seconds that allowed the Thunder to control the rest of the game even without scoring until the final 90 seconds on an empty-net goal.
Missouri has outscored opponents by a Central Hockey League-best 35 goals and tied for the league defensive lead with 119 goals allowed by playing a style that lulls opponents to a state of lethargy and forces them to adapt to the Mavericks’ pace rather than establishing their own.
That blueprint worked perfectly for Missouri on Friday during a 4-1 win, as did the Mavericks’ special-teams dominance as the league leader in power-play percentage delivered two extra-man scores.
Sunday, Wichita attacked early and surged to a 15-5 advantage in shots after a single period, netting a two goal lead that necessitated a change in philosophy that Missouri couldn’t muster. The Mavericks’ easy-going approach was rendered useless by the early deficit they faced.
“We didn’t play our game the first night against Missouri, we played theirs,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “…Tonight, we came out and played our hockey. We actually got a forecheck going, got pucks to the net, banged and threw their defensemen around, and that’s how you play the game.”
Wichita also managed a penalty kill after the Mavericks won Friday’s game with the help of a pair of power-play goals, which they bested in a win Saturday over Allen that took them to first place in the league.
Special teams success reflected that of Wichita’s defense at even strength. Goalie David Brown got the numbers with 22 saves and his first shutout of the season, but the Thunder’s resistance was a collective effort.
The Thunder’s individual defense was just as impressive as Brown’s steadfastness in net, as Wichita’s forwards and defensemen alike draped playmakers and kept Brown’s saves totals relatively low because many shots didn’t reach the net. Wichita’s teamwork permeated other areas of the game, too.
“That’s taking pride in your one-on-one battles; everyone took pride in their one-on-one battles,” Summers said. “Another thing is we were working as five out there. If you needed to get it to that far guy, we were using three passes to get it there instead of trying to go for the hail mary, the long bomb. We were working together, relaying it up the ice.”
Wichita’s defense earned a bonus reward, beyond the shutout, when Mike Wilson turned a turnover into an empty-net goal and the Thunder reversed its fortunes after a pair of damaging weekend losses.
“It’s just called paying the price,” McClelland said. “Being a hockey player, showing up and doing your job properly with effort, intensity and character. That’s all it comes down to.”