There is no surefire method for keeping an affiliated minor-league hockey team together for an entire season. No real way to guard against the inevitability of injuries and promotions.
After experiencing those truths during a difficult 2016-17 season, Thunder coach Malcolm Cameron is willing to try for stability another way as the Thunder begins its first season as part of the Edmonton Oilers’ system. The Thunder’s NHL affiliate last season, the Ottawa Senators, often summoned Wichita players to fill needs in the Triple-A American Hockey League for Binghamton.
Cameron says he has built a versatile, well-rounded roster with players who have proven themselves at higher levels or overseas. It’s not foolproof against the upheaval the Thunder went through last year, but it’s a safer bet than hoping players don’t get called up from the ECHL.
“In order for what happened last year to happen again, there would have to be a severe, major tragedy type of situation,” Cameron said. “Bakersfield, which is Edmonton’s American League team, has a lot more players under contract than Binghamton did last year.
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“We’re in a lot more comfortable position, but we have some older guys and some middle-age guys that, I hate to say shouldn’t get called up, but the likelihood of getting called up isn’t as great as what it was last year.”
Cameron had a productive summer recruiting period, forming a roster that he believes will be tough to pare down when cuts are due on Wednesday. The Thunder begins the season on Friday with the first of two weekend home dates against Indy.
The preseason roster, which doesn’t yet include at least one or two players who will be sent down from Bakersfield’s camp, includes five players who played for the Thunder last season. The most prominent of those is probably Zach O’Brien, who scored 27 points in 32 games as a midseason acquisition.
Others in camp played last season in places such as Austria, Slovenia, Scotland, in junior leagues or in college – or, in the case of former NHL player Dana Tyrell, nowhere at all. Forward Nate Dicasmirro, 39, began his career in 2001.
“The roster we have right now, we’re loaded with players,” Cameron said. “I’m going to have some really tough decisions over the next couple of days, because, quite honestly, everybody that we have in camp right now would be a good player in this league. We’re going to have to make at least four moves prior to solidifying our final roster on Wednesday.”
The most high-profile moves within the ECHL saw the Thunder add forwards Dyson Stevenson and Travis Ewanyk from Allen and Fort Wayne, and goaltender Joel Rumpel from Cincinnati.
Those players, instead of being relied upon exclusively to pull the Thunder from two straight last-place finishes, can be viewed as reinforcements to a sturdy roster already built.
“There’s not one guy that has disappointed here in camp,” Cameron said. “Everybody came as advertised. We’ve got guys that have two or three years’ experience in the American League, we’ve got guys that have played in the National Hockey League.… I like our blend of size and speed and toughness and skill.”