If the Thunder has heard any concern over the injuries and roster turnover that have befallen the team over the last month, the consistent message Wichita has given in response has been, “Everything is going to be OK.”
Wichita’s recent six-game winning streak was convincing support for that argument, but if the Thunder needed something extra, a 6-1 win over Laredo on Tuesday night went a long way toward solidifying it.
One play in particular embodied Wichita’s recent attitude — in the opening seconds of the second period, Matt Robinson briefly went to the bench with an injury. He returned shortly after and scored almost immediately after his skates touched the ice.
Health issues may have been a temporary setback, but Wichita has discarded any surrounding worry. The first-place Thunder leads Allen, which lost on Tuesday, by four points for first place in the Berry Conference.
Wichita also showcased its hunger by pouring on three goals in the third period and going for a fourth as the final seconds ticked down.
"We don’t want to give up anything and we don’t want to leave anything up to chance," Robinson said. "It’s kind of a no mercy mentality. As much as we can get, that’s great. If guys can get more points and more goals, it’s even better."
Wichita’s six-game winning streak was highlighted by a road win over Allen last Thursday and a convincing victory against rival Tulsa the following night.
The streak ended Saturday when the Thunder allowed three unanswered third-period goals in front of more than 13,000 fans in Wichita. Thunder players were eager to create cause for forgetting that loss, uncharacteristic for a team that typically dominates the final period.
The Thunder was back to its usual habits on Tuesday, peppering Bucks goalkeeper Torrie Jung with 38 shots, including 21 during the second period. One of two goals in the period came from Robinson. He took a hard hit along the boards and staggered off the ice only to return quickly and score even more quickly.
"I thought I re-hurt my knee that I hurt a couple years ago," Robinson said. "I just kind of walked it off. (Coach Kevin McClelland) doesn’t really let us get a chance to (stay out). He’ll just say, ’Oh, I’ve had that before, just walk it off.’ ”
Wichita’s three goals on 30 shots through two periods was a relatively low total, but with efficient passing near the goal and the Thunder’s ability to beat Laredo defenders, a breakthrough appeared possible.
It came in the third, a contrast to the previous game but not to Wichita’s season. Erick Lizon, Alex Bourret and Chris Chappell each scored, doubling the Thunder’s total.
Five players scored and seven others had an assist for Wichita, which highlighted its depth and versatility.
"We have three lines that can put the puck in at anytime," Robinson said. "Even when guys are injured, Chappell (RG) Flath, all those guys are still hot right now."
Flath scored two goals, giving him a career-best 21 for the year. Bryan Hogan, Adam Russo’s backup in goal, made 24 saves and improved to 4-0 as a starter for the Thunder.
It didn’t seem like enough for the Thunder, which was in attack mode at the end of the game, narrowly missing goal No. 7.
"You want to always try to keep good habits," McClelland said. "If you don’t, they’re going to creep into the next game. A hockey game is 60 minutes long, and that’s what you want to have your guys play. We’ve had lapses before, but tonight we played pretty solid for 60 minutes."
0 1 0— 1Wichita 1 2 3— 6
Scoring—1. Wichita, Flath (Trudel, Sawyer), 14:39. Penalties—Wichita, Sawyer (high sticking), 9:43.
Scoring—2. Wichita, Robinson (Chappell, Summers), 2:23; 3. Laredo, Sparling PP (Boyd, Trimm), 9:56; 4. Wichita, Flath (Beauregard, Bourret), 15:52. Penalties—Laredo, Boisvert (boarding), 4:49; Wichita, Sawyer (interference), 8:24.
Scoring—5. Wichita, Lizon (Hemingway, Greene), 5:31; 6. Wichita, Bouret SH (unassisted), 11:56; Wichita, Chappell (Summers, Mohr), 15:36. Penalties—Wichita, Sawyer (high sticking double minor), 8:14.
Power play—Laredo 1 for 4, Wichita 0 for 1.
Shots—Laredo 7-8-10—25, Wichita 9-21-8—38
Saves—Laredo, Jung 32 saves on 38 shots; Wichita, Hogan 24 saves on 25 shots