The Thunder was so good at Intrust Bank Arena over the previous two seasons that it got to play most of its postseason games there.
This year, Wichita’s record at home could end up being the biggest factor in keeping it out of the playoffs altogether.
The Thunder has nine home wins in 25 games, second-fewest in the league behind expansion St. Charles and poor enough to clinch its worst home mark at Intrust, opened during the 2010 season, with eight games to play.
In the past two years, Wichita combined for 49 home victories, leading the league both seasons, and earned home-ice advantage in all but one of its six playoff series.
“That was our trademark,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “Obviously, it hasn’t been this year. We play better on the road.”
Part of the poor performance in Wichita has been an offshoot of the Thunder’s overall struggles. The team is five points out of the eighth-and-final postseason spot with 16 games remaining and has never found a way to sustain its few infusions of momentum.
Just like the Thunder’s wide-ranging difficulties, the problems at home began early. Wichita lost its first nine home games, and though it has gone 9-7 since, it hasn’t been enough to become a greater factor in the playoff race.
The Thunder is already beginning to miss a prime opportunity to insert itself more prominently in the race, losing two games at home last weekend to kick off a stretch in which 8 of 10 games are played in a more friendly environment.
“If I knew the answer, things would be different,” Wichita forward RG Flath said. “But I don’t know what the deal is this year. It’s just been kind of a frustrating year, and we’re just trying to battle through and make the playoffs.”
Wichita is 13-10-2 on the road, but even that isn’t making much of a difference. In an odd trend, only St. Charles has a losing road record, and Missouri’s 18-7 mark away from Independence, Mo., can be significantly credited for the Mavericks leading the Central Hockey League.
The Thunder has been outscored 82-68 at home while owning an 83-79 away from Wichita. Top scorers Jon Booras and Matt Robinson each own markedly better offensive numbers on the road.
Players and McClelland dismiss that the pressure of the playoff race is creating more urgency at home and a relaxed environment on the road.
“We just need to pretend like we’re on the road and play a simple road game at home,” Flath said. “Not try to do anything too fancy, work hard and out-work the other team. For some reason, I don’t know, teams seem to come in here and work harder than us some nights.”