What the Wichita Thunder desperately needs is a distraction — something, anything, to divert attention from the lowly state of the franchise.
So perhaps Travis Clayton is returning at an opportune time.
One of the most-popular players in Thunder history, Clayton and his new team, the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs, begin a two-game series tonight in the Kansas Coliseum.
Undoubtedly, there are still fans in Wichita who will cheer for Clayton, who spent 11 years with the Thunder but now wears No. 38 for a Northern Conference rival.
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Just as surely, detractors will boo and heckle Clayton, as they did last season during his first game in the Coliseum as a Mudbug.
Whatever, any diversion should be welcomed by the Thunder, which is 3-18-3 and has lost 11 consecutive games, tying a franchise record.
After slow starts, Shreveport and Clayton seem to be finding their games. Bossier (12-10) has won three in a row, and Clayton has eight points in his last five games, giving him a team-high 20.
"We had been getting good chances," Clayton said of his line. "All of a sudden, they finally started going in for us."
The 33-year-old Clayton, married with an 18-month-old son, is sentimental about his return to Wichita and his final games in the Kansas Coliseum. (The Thunder will move into Intrust Bank Arena in January.) He affectionately calls the Coliseum "that old barn."
"The biggest thing I remember is the fans, how well they treated us," Clayton said. "They love Thunder hockey. When you come out of that tunnel and all the fans are yelling and cheering, it's just a great feeling."
Clayton became a free agent under controversial circumstances two seasons ago, although both sides seem to have softened their stances.
The move to Bossier-Shreveport has allowed Clayton to play on a winning team — the Mudbugs made the playoffs last season while the Thunder won just 20 games.
Still, Clayton seems, at times, to have ambivalence about his decision to leave the Thunder.
"I have some regrets, but I'm happy where I am right now," he said. "Someday, you never know, I might be in Thunder blue again.
"I wish nothing but success for the Thunder — except when they're playing us."
Notes — Goalie Tim Boron and rookie Brandon Kaleniecki are expected to be activated from injured reserve today, interim coach Jason Duda said.... The Thunder also lost 11 straight games during 1992, the first season for the franchise. "Nobody wants to be a part of that (a record), so hopefully we can come out and take some pride in what we're doing," Duda said.