Fight the feeling
According to forward Aaron Boogaard, Thunder coach Kevin McClelland has issued a directive to his players during most of the season: no fighting.
At face value, it’s a seemingly strange command for a team that has been inconsistent with its physical play this season. But McClleand’s message goes deeper — the Thunder can play physically without fighting, can intimidate opponents without dropping the gloves.
Telling the Thunder not to fight is essentially telling the team to hit more aggressively, to never miss an opportunity to announce your presence to an opposing player. Since losing enforcer Erick Lizon to an AHL promotion, the Thunder has lost games in which seemingly inferior teams have proven tougher. A new perspective on its aspirations may help Wichita find a new energy.
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“(McClelland) doesn’t care if nobody fights the rest of the year,” Boogaard said. “He said he prefers no one to fight, so just go out there and hit guys. Just because you’re hitting guys doesn’t mean you have to fight them.
“I’m not saying we’re scared or anything, but sometimes you get in that mentality where if I start running around (looking for big hits), I’m going to have to fight. But that’s not the case at all. Once we start figuring that out, I think we’ll get back to where we were at the start of the year, compared to this last little bit.”
On paper, losing Lizon wasn’t a major blow to the Thunder. He was never shy about fighting, but he played minimal shifts and didn’t contribute much offensively.
The loss had a much greater intangible impact, however. Lizon gave the Thunder an identity and his teammates followed his lead. When Lizon fought, the team’s energy soared. His departure is reflected in the standings, as Wichita has gone 5-6, dropping into second place behind Allen.
“Losing a guy like Lizon, he was out there running around and hitting guys,” Boogaard said. “You lose an important piece to our team like that and it puts a pretty big dent in our team and it’s obviously noticeable. Losing a guy like that, it hindered us, but at the same time it’s up to everybody else to pick up the pieces.”
To pick up the slack for Lizon, some players must adjust their style. When the Thunder was populated with bruising players last season such as Alex Bourret and Justin Sawyer, a physical style was more natural. Now, without Lizon and the injured Todd Griffith, Wichita players must channel their inner ruffian.
Or, in Boogaard’s case in response to McClelland’s mandate, a slightly more peaceful version of himself.
“I’m not really expecting to go out and run guys, just like I’m not really expected to score,” Boogaard said. “We’re all here for a purpose and a reason, and if we’re missing a guy like Lizon, it’s me and (Dustin) Donaghy and (Nathan) Lutz that have to pick it up more than normal.”
• Four players who were in the CHL during the NHL lockout made NHL opening-night rosters. Arizona’s David Schlemko and Kyle Chipchura are with Phoenix, Allen’s Alec Martinez is with the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and Kyle Quincey, formerly of Denver, is with Detroit. Four other former CHL players made NHL rosters.
• Two former Thunder players are among the CHL’s top 10 scorers. AJ Gale, who played in Wichita two seasons ago, is tied for second in the league with 51 points. Troy Schwab is tied for eighth with 42. The Thunder’s leading scorer, Matt Summers, is tied for 12th at 38 points.
Summers and Thunder rookie Greger Hanson are tied for the league lead with six game-winning goals.
Wichita has outshot its opponents 31 times this season but is 17-12-2 in those games. Conversely, the Thunder owns a 6-1-1 record when it is outshot.
Tap of the stick
Though he has played in 11 fewer games, Thunder backup goaltender Torrie Jung has three fewer wins (13 to 10) than starter Kevin Regan.
The Thunder will celebrate mascot Thunder Dog’s 20th birthday on Saturday night against Denver. The game will feature appearances by several regional mascots.
The Thunder’s record this season when it scores first.
He said it
“We just need to keep being smart. We just need to keep shooting and hope they go in. If they’re not, we just need to work that extra little bit harder to make sure the next one does.”
— Boogaard on the Thunder’s recent scoring troubles