LIFE IN THE FISH BOWL
Hockey players shake off so many injuries that it's easy to take their toughness for granted.
Case in point: Thunder forward Chris Greene.
On what the Thunder felt was a dirty hit by Missouri's Mike Wakita in a game on Nov. 12, Greene fractured his cheek bone in three places. Surgery was required two days after the incident.
Naturally, Greene took the necessary time off from work to fully relax, recoup and recover: He missed three games. Such toughness has endeared the hard-hitting, unselfish Greene to Thunder fans.
To him, playing hurt is part of the sport.
"It was sore, but I try to play through as much as I can," Greene said. "If you're gonna be a hockey player, you gotta be tough because, obviously, it's a very physical game. You can't go out there and get a whack and expect to get a week off."
Since returning to action on Nov. 23, Greene has been wearing a full shield, or what players call a "fish bowl." He can't wait to return to a half shield sometime soon.
Greene, last season's Thunder glass rattler of the year, knows his role on the red-hot Thunder, which has won five straight games to up its record to 17-7. With all the offensive star power on the roster, the Ontario native isn't expected to put the puck in the net.
Still, it's necessary for Greene, and his linemates on the checking line, to chip in occassionally, and that hasn't been happening. So it was notable when Greene took advantage of a bouncing puck in front of the net and punched it in for his first goal of the season in a 4-1 victory over Rio Grande Valley on Friday. He added an assist, giving him five for the year.
It was a relief for Greene, and likely for coach Kevin McClelland, who had been openly pushing his third line to start contributing. Three Thunder forwards haven't scored yet.
"We know the third line isn't about scoring goals, but we have to chip in when we can," Greene said. "We can't depend on the first and second line every night. We're not gonna get the pretty goals, but we can get the greasy ones and put in some of the bounces."
* The Thunder will be waiting anxiously the next two weeks, hoping that captain Daniel Tetrault can recover from his lower-body injury. The defenseman said he is "pretty confident" that he will return at full strength. However, he also said that surgery may be required after the season; that sounds like it could be a nagging injury.
* McClelland said he is continuing to try to find Alex Bourret an opportunity in the AHL. Bourret has looked too good for the CHL recently. The former first-round NHL draft pick is on a six-game scoring streak, with 14 points in that span.
Newly added RG Flath has fit in well as the second-line centerman, scoring three points in his first two games. "He's come in and done exactly what we thought he'd do," McClelland said. "He's a guy who gets in the way out there; he's a real competitor, he'll win a lot of draws and he'll be a good penalty killer. Those are things we needed for our hockey club."
The Thunder's penalty kill is at 78.1 percent, 12th of 14 teams in the CHL. Recent history says the unit needs to improve if Wichita is to reach its goal of a championship. The past seven CHL champs have had much better penalty kills: Bossier(83.5), Rapid City (85.4), Texas (81.5), Arizona (84.5), Colorado (85.2), Laredo (84.2) and Colorado (89.3).
TAP OF THE STICK
Adam Russo has won the league's goaltender of the week honor for the second time this season. Russo went 3-0, including a shutout, and he has lowered his goals-against average to 2.43 — third in the CHL. Thomas Beauregard, who scored nine points, was named player of the week. "Those guys have been playing well, but every guy in the dressing room can take a piece of those awards," McClelland said. "It's a team effort."
TAP OF THE STICK II
Ryan MacDonald, the Thunder's backup goalie, isn't too materialistic when it comes to Christmas. In an intermission video on the big board at Intrust Bank Arena, he was asked what he wants Santa to bring. "Not too much — just some socks, underwear," he said. "That's about it."
There's no shortage of Christmas villains: The Grinch, Burgermeister Meisterburger, Scrooge, that mean head elf who didn't want Hermie to be a dentist. Add the CHL to the list for once again making the Thunder play Tulsa on Christmas Day.
Bourret's point total, second in the CHL to Rapid City's Jesse Schultz with 36
HE SAID IT
"We're playing consistent, but I still think we've got another gear."
_McClelland on his team's five-game winning streak