Following the Thunder’s season-ending, 5-2 loss to Allen Saturday night at Intrust Bank Arena, Wichita coach Kevin McClelland wouldn’t commit to returning next season.
“It’s fresh right now,” McClelland said.
McClelland, who has one year left on his Thunder contract, also didn’t seem interested in the Thunder’s pursuit of an NHL affiliation, which the team didn’t have this season, its first in the Double-A ECHL.
“I’m not getting involved in it,” he said.
So while the answers to perhaps the two most pressing offseason questions for the Thunder remain unanswered for now, the just-completed season isn’t as difficult to navigate.
The postseason was a realistic possibility for the Thunder until a six-game losing streak over nine days in March. The playoffs remained a mathematical possibility after that, but Wichita lost its final three games, all at home, to postseason teams Tulsa and Allen.
The Thunder’s season never truly gained traction, even though Wichita had some of its best stretches following some of its most difficult roadblocks.
The team played well following the early-season departures of captain Theo Peckham and leading scorer Stephen Schultz, who both opted to play in Europe, and Wichita dutifully endured multiple long road trips in the second half, but all of those things eventually caught up.
Losing Peckham, a defenseman, damaged Wichita’s goal prevention, as the former NHL player proved nearly impossible to replace, especially after the midseason injury to fellow defenseman Dalton Reum.
The Thunder’s scoring also suffered long-term deficiencies. Danick Gauthier, Mike Wilson and Ian Lowe all scored at least 50 points, but the depth that had been the hallmark of recent Thunder playoff teams never emerged.
The later road trips also hurt, as Wichita ran out of steam and lost nine of its final 11 games to miss the playoffs for the second straight season. McClelland had been to the postseason in each of the previous seven years.
“It’s just a different year in general with the late (move to the ECHL),” McClelland said. “We had a few guys that left our team and went over to Europe, which every team does. We brought a few guys in, then we lost six in a row and it took a lot of steam out of us.
“We had a couple guys banged up – typical things that happen in a season. There were four teams that were all pretty close (in the standings). It was whoever went into a little skid wasn’t going to make it, and that would be us.”
McClelland didn’t speak like someone who wasn’t returning, mentioning defense as an area for offseason improvement and hoping for more stability from the goaltending spot.
Those issues will have to wait, though, because McClelland isn’t quite ready to confront them.
“I’m going to take some time,” McClelland said. “I’m going to re-evaluate everything.”
Scoring—1. Allen, Ludwig (Costello, Hanson), 1:51; 2. Wichita, Flath PP (Gauthier, Hosmer), 16:28. Penalties—Wichita, Wilson (slashing), 3:47; Wichita, Wilson (hooking), 14:48; Allen, Costello (unsportsmanlike conduct), 15:33; Allen, Costello (misconduct), 15:33; Allen, Hanson (interference), 15:33.
Scoring—3. Allen, Crane PP (Aresneau, Gens), 12:48. Penalties—Wichita, Tulupov (interference), 0:31; Allen, Stevenson (unsportsmanlike conduct), 3:58; Wichita, MacIntyre (unsportsmanlike conduct), 3:58; Wichita, Gauthier (too many men bench minor), 5:36; Allen, Abeltshauser (unsportsmanlike conduct), 7:05; Wichita, Walker (unsportsmanlike conduct), 7:05; Allen, Stevenson (fighting major), 10:59; Wichita, Trebish (roughing), 10:59; Wichita, Trebish (fighting major), 10:59; Wichita, MacIntyre (interference), 13:32; Wichita, Lizon (unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:35; Wichita, Lizon (misconduct – unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:35; Allen, Asuchak (roughing double minor), 18:38; Wichita, Walker (roughing), 18:38.
Scoring—4. Allen, Hanson SH (unassisted), 0:36; 5. Wichita, Flath PP (Tulupov, Meland), 11:38; 6. Allen, Abeltshauser PP (Costello, Gens), 13:27; 7. Allen, Crane PP (Costello, Gens), 17:05. Penalties—Allen, Costello (too many men bench minor), 10:05; Wichita, Lizon (game misconduct – unsportsmanlike conduct), 12:07; Wichita, MacIntyre (slashing), 12:50; Wichita, Flath (cross-checking), 16:38.
Power play—Allen 3-9, Wichita 2-4. Shots—Allen 14-9-11—34, Wichita 10-4-10—24. Saves—Allen, Gill 22-24; Wichita, Rollheiser 29-34.