Thousands of kids grow up playing hockey in Canada, then they turn professional and sometimes never get the chance to play at home again.
That is finally changing for the Thunder, which plays its first games outside of the United States when it travels to Brampton, Ontario for three games starting on Friday. The Beast is a first-year Central Hockey League franchise.
It’s a near-homecoming for several Wichita players, none more so than Jason Wilson, a native of nearby Richmond Hill, part of the greater Toronto area. He’s quite familiar with Brampton’s home ice at the Powerade Centre.
“I grew up playing at that rink,” Wilson said. “I played there throughout my junior career, so I definitely think it’s funny to be back there. I’m looking forward to it and I know my family is, too.”
Wilson said he’ll have a sizeable group of friends and family at the games, but he probably won’t be the only one asking for extra tickets. Five Thunder players are from Ontario, the most-populated province, as is coach Kevin McClelland.
“A few of the guys have been talking about it, and I’m sure the stands will be filled with mostly families,” Wilson said. “Hopefully we can come away with a successful road trip and get a couple wins.”
The four days in Ontario will give Thunder players with roots there a chance to catch up, but Wichita has no choice but to treat that time as a business trip.
The Beast is tied with Wichita for the second-fewest wins at home and is one of the teams in the middle of the CHL within striking distance for the ninth-place Thunder. Wichita went 1-2 against Brampton at Intrust Bank Arena in November.
“We’re going down there to win a couple hockey games, and they’re really close (in the standings) right now,” Wilson said. “It’ll be nice to win, then see family on top of that. That’s the plan.”
The significance of the Thunder’s first game on non-U.S. soil isn’t lost on the Thunder, even though most American professional leagues lack for Canadian teams. Many Wichita players have never played a pro game in their home country.
“I’m kind of used to it by now,” Wilson said. “A lot of good hockey players came from my area, so it’s definitely nice to come back and play there. I just think it’s strange to be back in my old town and spend a couple days playing there. I definitely appreciate it.”
Slap shots• The start of men’s Olympic hockey on Wednesday will likely invoke memories of the gold-medal winning 1980 United States team, which ended up with a strong CHL connection. Five players from the 1980 U.S. team played for the Tulsa Oilers at one point – Bob Suter, Steve Janasak, Dave Silk, Rob McClanahan and Bill Baker.
• Quad City is improving at the gate under new ownership. The Mallards drew the league’s highest attendance of the season with a crowd of 8,761 Saturday night and are attracting about 700 more fans per night than last year, when the team was sold to QCM Holdings.
With an assist Saturday at Tulsa, Thunder forward Jon Booras reached 50 points for the fifth time in six seasons. His only miss came in 2010-11 with Bloomington, when he scored 49.
Booras hasn’t scored a goal since Jan. 19 against Missouri, a nine-game goalless streak. He had three assists, however, against Denver on Jan. 28.
Tap of the stick
Wichita defensemen Karl Linden and Mike Wilson each have a positive rating over the last 10 games, and Wilson leads the Thunder in points during that stretch with 11.
With 44 points through 45 games, the Thunder needs 26 points over 21 games to equal the 70 of last year’s No. 8 playoff seed, Denver.
He said it
“We got on the offense, put on the gas and got after them. When you sit back… they might catch you sleeping with a goal here and there. But no, we got after them.”
--Thunder forward Matt Summers after Sunday’s 3-0 win over Missouri