The Thunder’s road-heavy January evens out at the end of this season, when Wichita plays nine of its final 11 games at Intrust Bank Arena.
That doesn’t help the team now, though, as it endures a stretch of eight road games – with one at home – in 15 days. The stretch is broken up by Friday’s home game against Quad City, which is becoming a familiar Thunder opponent. It will be the only Thunder game in Wichita between Jan. 11 and Feb. 6.
In that time, the Thunder will have gone from Texas to South Dakota, then to Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and back to Illinois before returning to Wichita. After that, two of the next three games are on the road.
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“It’s tough,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “There’s a lot of bus travel involved and guys have to make sure they get proper sleep and proper food. It’s tough on the road, that’s for sure. We want to make sure we stay in good positioning for these games because it’s always tough to play on the road.”
Wichita is rewarded for its mileage with a less hectic second-half schedule. The Thunder plays five straight home games beginning Feb. 20 and is home for nine of its final 11. The longest remaining road trip after the current stretch is three games and involves reduced travel since all of them are against Brampton.
The Thunder, currently sixth in the ECHL Western conference, could improve its playoff positioning by playing well at home over the final two months, but the fatigue from long road trips may make for a lengthy recovery period.
“I’d like it to be little more spread out,” McClelland said. “But a lot of it is availability of the building and stuff like that, so it is what it is. I don’t see the schedule until (it is released), so whatever shows up in front of me, that’s what I’ve got to accept, I guess.”
After this road swing, Wichita will have played Quad City six times in a month. Since the ECHL absorbed seven teams from the Central Hockey League just before the season, the schedule wasn’t revised enough for the former CHL teams to play much outside of their division.
The result is familiarity – for the first 13 games of the season, Wichita only played Missouri, Tulsa, Allen and Rapid City. The Thunder has played three games outside of its division, going 1-2 against Elmira and Evansville.
“When the schedule was set during the summertime in the other league (CHL), we knew we were down teams so we’d be facing a lot of the same teams all the time,” McClelland said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you’ve just got to go out and make sure you’re ready. They’re all big hockey games, that’s for sure.”
Around the ECHL
▪ The Associated Press reported this week that a group of Native American students attending a Rapid City (S.D.) Rush game last Saturday were harassed with racial slurs and had beer sprayed on them from a group of fans sitting in a suite. Eagle Sales, the team’s beer distributor, issued a statement of apology and team officials said they were investigating the incident.
▪ Kalamazoo has moved into playoff position with a nine-game unbeaten streak, pushing the Wings to fourth in the North division with 39 points. Toledo and Fort Wayne lead the division with 59 points apiece.
Brad Both made a short career out of earning the attention of officials, usually with physical play that often turned to fighting. In 2002-03, Both racked up 438 penalty minutes in 63 games for Fresno of the West Coast Hockey League. For perspective, Thunder coach Kevin McClelland’s career high for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, where he was assigned to protect Wayne Gretzky, was 281. Both had 244 penalty minutes in 49 ECHL games, finishing his career in 2006 at 27.
Gwinnett, currently last in the East division, originated as the Mobile (Ala.) Mysticks in 1995 before moving the Georgia before the 2003-04 season and being rechristened as the Gladiators. Gwinnett has affiliations with Portland of the Triple-A American Hockey League and the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. They have made eight playoff appearances, losing in the 2006 finals to Alaska.
The Thunder has forced opponents to switch goalies eight times this season, including four against Rapid City. Wichita is 4-2-1-1 in those games.
He said it
“(Games are) against teams that all came from (the CHL). We’ve just got to make sure and we play well against these teams. Every game is a four-point (swing), so that makes it real interesting, that’s for sure.”
– McClelland on facing familiar opponents frequently