Thunder hopes fresh legs helps push to playoff spot

02/27/2014 11:29 AM

02/27/2014 11:30 AM

The Thunder has played nearly 80 percent of its schedule, but many of its players are settling into midseason form — though it may not always appear that way.

Thanks to a slew of early-season injuries, several Thunder players are more fresh, physically, than many counterparts. Seven Thunder players have missed at least five of 51 games and a few have missed more than that.

Health should be an advantage since recent Central Hockey League opponents are being worn down as the regular season nears its end, but Wichita is struggling to capitalize. It lost to a depleted Allen team last Friday and needed a shootout to top a fractured Arizona club this week.

“We hit those injuries in the beginning,” said Thunder forward Tomas Klempa, who missed nearly a month after a December injury. “Knock on wood, everybody is healthy, and I think we’re going to hit our peak and play to our potential.”

Wichita’s season never gained early traction because it was without captain Andrew Martens and scoring threats Matt Summers and Ian Lowe, along with defenseman Jesse Dudas, for much of the first month.

The Thunder dipped near the bottom of the CHL standings and has yet to emerge, sitting in ninth place in a 10-team league and on the outside of the playoff picture with 15 games remaining.

Players such as Martens, Summers, Lowe, Dudas and Klempa could be more ready for the physical and mental grind of the home stretch than players from other teams, though, simply because they haven’t logged as much ice time.

“Hopefully,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “That really took its toll on us early in the season, obviously. I guess it doesn’t matter what part of the season you get it, but hopefully we’re good the rest of the year.”

Allen was without several top scorers Friday and before Friday, a factor in the six-game losing streak it snapped against Wichita. Arizona was one of the league’s hottest teams before injuries caused the Sundogs to lose six of their last seven and fall into eighth place, four points ahead of Wichita.

Once-dominant Rapid City began to decline when goalie Tim Boron missed 13 games. Now the Rush is chasing first-place Missouri.

The only difference with the Thunder and those teams is that Wichita’s injuries occurred early, leaving it healthy for the most crucial stretch of the year.

“You don’t want injuries like we had at the beginning of the year when we had Summers out, Lowe out, Martens out, Dudas out,” McClelland said. “Throw in a two-game suspension for (RG) Flath, those are five-games out of your lineup and it’s tough to win without those guys.”

Anderson to speak Sunday — Former NBA and University of Kentucky player Derek Anderson, who won a championship with the Miami Heat in 2006, will speak at 4:10 p.m. Sunday before the Thunder’s game against Arizona as part of a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event. As of Wednesday evening, 50 spots remained for Anderson’s speech at a half-off ticket price of $11.50, which includes the speech and the game. Call 316-681-4227, ext. 1, and mention FCA when ordering the discounted tickets by 5 p.m. Friday.

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