Wichita Thunder

Thunder enter season with optimism

It's impossible to pinpoint an exact date, but sometime during the off-season the outlook for the Wichita Thunder's future went from hopeless to hopeful.

Maybe the attitude changed when goaltender Tim Boron had successful hip surgery and re-signed, or when the Thunder signed a couple of proven veteran forwards, Glenn Detulleo and Damian Surma.

Perhaps the optimism was fueled when the team brought back its top young players (Joel Hanson and Troy Ofukany), or when coach Brent Bilodeau built a giant defensive corps — a blueline with four players 6-foot-4 or taller, including 6-7 heavyweight Chris McAllister.

Whatever the turning point, as training camp opens today there is largely a positive buzz surrounding the team — an impressive accomplishment for an organization that hasn't had a winning record since 2005-06.

Last season as a rookie coach, Bilodeau went with double-digit rookies on the opening-day roster, and the results were awful — the Thunder finished 20-41-3.

This season, the philosophy has clearly changed. The 26-man training camp roster is filled with experience, including two (McAllister and Surma) who played in the NHL.

The difference in this year's recruiting class compared to last year?

"Night and day," Bilodeau said. "We're definitely got a lot more talent, more veteran leadership.

"I don't think we have as many what-ifs or unknowns."

Thunder general manager Joel Lomurno, who has seen the glory years and the lean ones, said fan response was "tremendous" to the team's off-season moves.

"I feel comfortable with the talent and potential we have," Lomurno said. "Are we perfect? No. We're still one or two pieces away, but that's better than being six or seven pieces away. I've very excited to see this team out on the ice."