The most memorable aspect of the Thunder’s recently completed four-game road trip was a brawl with Elmira on Sunday that included all 12 players on the ice and took several minutes to control.
Like the 1-3 trip as a whole, not much good came of that. Wichita was overpowered during some of the individual fights – each player paired off – and the Thunder lost 5-1 before finishing with a 7-4 loss to Tulsa three nights later.
Wichita (9-9-1-3) was outscored 17-9 during the trip but managed to maintain third place in the eight-team ECHL Central Division, though it is closer to last place than first as it faces Quad City on Friday night.
“You want to play .500 on the road or better,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “We fell one game short, but the first game in Brampton we let slip away and (Wednesday) night in Tulsa again. There’s just a few goals that we would want back that shouldn’t go in our net, really.”
Mostly as a result of the fighting, the Thunder tallied 102 penalty minutes against Elmira. Since most of those penalties were offset, Wichita surrendered three power-play opportunities and wasn’t damaged by them, since each team managed an extra-man goal.
The trend of penalties was pervasive throughout the four games, though, and did particular damage during Wednesday’s loss at Tulsa. The Thunder earned 52 penalty minutes, played a man short nine times, and allowed three goals in those situations.
Wichita had 192 penalty minutes during the trip and is fourth in the league with 445 this season. McClelland will take those results because it fits in with his preferred style of play and because the Thunder ranks eighth in the ECHL in penalty killing.
“We have a physical hockey club,” McClelland said. “No one is really going to come in our building and bother us. Maybe they are on the road, and that’s what happened on the road.
“There’s a lot involved in the penalty killing. You’ve got to have timely saves, and you’ve got to have people sacrificing and stuff, and (Wednesday) night we didn’t.”
There are statistics that help offset some apparently negative Thunder trends. Even with the high ranking in penalty minutes, Wichita’s opponents have more, with 461. The Thunder has lost 8 of 11 road games but has earned points in six because of overtime and shootout defeats.
And despite averaging 2.73 goals, the Thunder has seemingly identified the players who may be able to increase that number. Danick Gauthier, Ian Lowe and Kenton Miller have combined for 60 points and had 6 of 9 goals on the road trip.
It’s a good start toward an improved offense, but McClelland is looking for more, especially after Stephen Schultz, then Wichita’s leading scorer, left the team last month to play in Germany.
“We need one or two more guys,” McClelland said. “And we had that. Schultz would have been right up there with those guys, but he decided to go over to Germany, which guys do. We just have to try and fill that. No one has really stepped up and taken that, so we’ve got to go look elsewhere.”
Quad City at Wichita
When: 7:05 p.m. Friday
Where: Intrust Bank Arena
Records: Quad City 8-8-3-2, Thunder 9-9-1-3