It was, in fact, a bus that carried the Thunder to Boise for a two-game weekend hockey series against Idaho, and not a traveling infirmary.
With several players battling flu-like symptoms, the Thunder has lost three straight to fall out of first place in the Mountain division even though Wichita is tied for the third-best record in the ECHL.
Two of the Thunder’s three losses have been by one goal and narrowly missed going into overtime. That’s no consolation and it doesn’t make the Thunder feel better – physically – either.
“We had a lot of guys with the flu,” Thunder coach Malcolm Cameron said. “For us to have played as hard as we did in Kalamazoo on Sunday (a 3-2 loss) with the amount of guys that were sick, it just shows we’ve got a lot of character.
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“(Sickness) hits a team when you’re on the road because you’re on an iron lung with no place to escape those bugs. It’s hard sometimes, it’s unfortunate, but everybody will go through that.”
Cameron didn’t desire team-wide illness, but some adversity might be good for the Thunder over the long haul, especially because of the goodwill built before the last week.
Wichita climbed to the league’s best record with a five-game winning streak that seems more indicative of the Thunder’s true level than the recent losing streak.
Even with players such as goalie Shane Starrett and forwards Kyle Platzer and Zach O’Brien promoted to Triple-A Bakersville of the American Hockey League within the Edmonton Oilers’ system, the Thunder survived because of its depth.
That depth was tested with several players at less than full strength this week, but the tests those games provided could wind up as a net positive.
“You have to face a little bit of adversity over the course of your season,” Cameron said. “Not everything goes smooth. If you’re not tested throughout the year, you’re not going to be ready to be tested during the playoffs.
“We’ve lost some guys here and there at different times. Platzer and O’Brien were big parts of our team and when they go up, other guys step in and play.”
One such savior has been goalie Joel Rumpel, who moved from backup to starter after Starrett’s promotion. Rumpel wasn’t immune from the flu symptoms that caught the Thunder, but he’s tied for fifth in the ECHL with nine wins.
“At the end of the day, you’ve just got to play through this stuff,” Cameron said. “With injuries and callups and flu, you’ve just got to play through it.”