Having already used eight players in the shootout, Wichita Thunder coach Kevin McClelland found himself in need of one more.
The veteran coach wasn’t sure how good newcomer Tim Kraus was in the one-on-one situation with the goalie, so he did the reasonable thing: He asked him.
Kraus was either brutally honest or pleasingly humble.
“Not really,” Kraus replied, according to McClelland, when asked if he typically did well in shootouts.
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McClelland sent him on the ice anyway, and Kraus came through under high pressure, scoring in the ninth round to help Wichita edge the Allen Americans 4-3 on Oct. 22.
McClelland’s decision in that game perfectly illustrates the method that he typically uses to decide who will take part in the shootout, and in what round.
McClelland isn’t armed with a laptop computer or notebooks filled with statistical information on the bench, so he uses a simpler method when the shootout situation arises — as it has so often this year.
“It comes down to a gut decision, basically,” he said. “You look at guys, obviously, who are having a good game and got a lot of confidence. You look at your goal scorers and guys who have been known to score clutch goals in the past. But again, it’s usually just a gut feeling.”
McClelland’s instincts have been serving the Thunder well. The team is off to a 4-0 start, with three of those victories, all at home, coming in the shootout.
Interestingly, McClelland said he didn’t have his players practice the shootout very much early in the season. At the time of Kraus’ goal, the team hadn’t practiced it at all.
“You can practice it, but game situations are a lot different,” he said.
A close look at the shootouts shows that McClelland isn’t operating by a strict pattern when he sends his players on the ice.
He has used three players (Thomas Beauregard, Matt Robinson and Brett Hemingway) to open the shootout. All three have missed.
Hemingway had the game-winner in Round 6 of the season opener, and McClelland didn’t use him in the first five rounds the next night. Instead, McClelland saved him for Round 6, when the Thunder had to have a goal to stay alive.
After an Odessa miss, McClelland somewhat surprisingly sent in big Justin Sawyer. Sawyer delighted the crowd when he scored a shootout goal in an exhibition game, and McClelland joked afterward that the 6-foot-6 defenseman probably wouldn’t receive another opportunity.
Sawyer missed, but things worked out when Adam Russo made a big save to set up Kraus’ heroics.
The Thunder is loaded with offensive talent this season _ so much so that McClelland has said he likes the odds when a game goes to a shootout. It would seem to present McClelland with an interesting strategic option: play very conservatively during the overtime period, content to use his team’s one-on-one skill in the shootout.
Without hesitation, McClelland said he would never try such a strategy, mainly because if would be boring for the fans.
“We want our guys to use their skill and abilities and go for it,” he said.
The biggest game of the week will be played at Intrust Bank Arena on Friday when the Thunder plays host to the Missouri Mavericks. The Thunder is 3-0 at home, and the Mavericks are 5-0, with all the victories coming on the road.
It will be interesting to see how fans respond to the game with Missouri. After two crowds in the 8,500 range for opening weekend, the team’s victory on Saturday drew 4,614.
Missouri will be without two key players. Ryan Jardine is out with the all-inclusive “upper-body injury.” Ed McGrane will sit out because of a _ wait for it _ lower body injury.
Mavericks goalie Charlie Effinger was named the CHL’s goaltender of the week on Tuesday. He stopped 91 of 95 shots (.958 SP) in two victories.
McClelland prides himself on the fact that his teams are in good shape, and that could be proving to be a big advantage late in games. The Thunder is outscoring opponents 8-0 in the third period _ by far the best differential in the CHL. Wichita’s shot advantage is 60-28 in the period.
The Thunder is 4-0 even without sterling play from the special teams. The power play is at 19 percent (ninth in 14-team league) and the penalty kill is 77.8, 10th in the CHL.
TAP OF THE STICK
In the preseason, defenseman Daniel Tetrault talked about his desire to sustain the momentum from his strong postseason a year ago. So far so good. He has one goal and three assists.
TAP OF THE STICK II
New goalie Adam Russo has been the winner in all three shootouts. He has a 2.15 goals-against and a .909 saves percentage.
From the Uncontrolled Hyperbole Department. In its weekly release called “Shots From the Point,” the league described the upcoming Mavericks-Thunder game as a “classic showdown.” Perhaps a bit much, but it has me wondering if I should rename this “The Classic CHL Report.”
DEFINING DIGIT 0-4
The Thunder’s start last season