The last image of the Thunder’s 2012-13 hockey season was a goal by Allen’s Todd Robinson that gave Game 7 of the CHL Finals to the Americans.
Wichita goalie Torrie Jung saw it the longest as it sailed past him, completing an unlikely comeback that saw Allen trailing 2-1 late in the third period before the Americans forced overtime.
Jung, Wichita’s second-year goaltender, might still be seeing it, but he’s ready to stop.
“Obviously anytime you come that close and you lose, it’s a real sting,” Jung said. “That’s really what competition is, there’s always going to be a winner and a loser. At the same time, yeah, it is motivation for this year and for all the guys coming in.”
Allen’s Game 7 win represented the second straight Thunder season in which a year highlighted by outstanding performances – some surprising, some not – ended with a bitter taste.
The Thunder also lost in the CHL Finals in 2011-12, failing to avenge that defeat after minor changes. That’s the route Wichita is taking again this year, as many core players return to a team that has upgraded at some positions. Jung didn’t play in Wichita’s exhibition opener, a 4-3 shootout win on Saturday over Tulsa at the Wichita Ice Center.
Jung is one of those core players, though with training-camp competition at goalie, Jung’s role hasn’t yet been fully determined. The fact that he became an integral part of the Thunder’s run to the finals, however, was unlikely in itself.
Jung, who played for now-disbanded CHL also-ran Laredo for two years prior, joined the Thunder last season having to earn a backup role, which he won during camp. He played well in reserve duty but seemed unlikely to unseat Kevin Regan, who had experience in Europe and in the Triple-A American Hockey League.
An injury to Regan around midseason handed the job to Jung, though, and Jung maintained his grasp on it even when Regan returned. His 24 wins led the league even though he played 37 of 66 regular-season games. He led all postseason goalies with a 2.06 goals-against average.
“I think anytime you’re playing a lot of minutes, it’s a good thing,” said the 24-year-old Jung. “I really don’t deserve all that credit at all. We played so well as a team, shut teams down, scored a lot of goals. It was really all of us coming together really well and meshing really well.”
Despite those standout statistics, Jung’s job isn’t completely guaranteed. Wichita added 25-year-old Taylor Nelson, who in his first year out of college played in the ECHL, and rookie John Griggs.
Jung has an edge on those players because he has proven himself at the professional level – Nelson’s ECHL stint included a pedestrian 3.53 GAA – but as last season showed, goalie is possibly the least-secure position on the ice. Coaches have a tendency to stick with the hot hand; since Jung never lost that last season, he never lost his job.
Jung embraces the competition because it keeps his guard up and because goalies are wired for day-to-day urgency.
“Anytime there’s two goalies on a team, there’s competition,” Jung said. “I’ve been fighting for minutes since I first started playing, really. I’ve never really been given a talk before the season proclaiming that I’m going to play every single minute. That’s not really how it works. It comes down to how well you play.”
For Jung, the best judge of that was his entire 2012-13 body of work, not the single moment that ended up defining the Thunder’s season. Even in that game, Jung held down an aggressive and urgent Allen offense for one goal over more than 50 minutes before the Americans’ attack became even more relentless.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to create a new, better moment.
“In the heat of the game, there’s really no thought,” Jung said. “You’re just reacting all the time and you’re just so focused on the game. Afterwards, it’s a real disappointment. We really wanted it and were so close, a couple minutes away.
“When you say it’s extra motivation, you’re exactly right. That just lights the fire under us.”
Thunder partnership – The Thunder has teamed with the Veterans Tickets Foundation to supply tickets to members of the military.
During October, the team will match each season-ticket purchase with the donation of a season ticket to the foundation. The foundation is a non-profit organization that partners with teams and leagues to provide free and discounted tickets to the more than 26 million U.S. military members. Its website is www.vettix.org.
Scoring — 1. Tulsa, Carriere (Hartvisken), 11:21; 2. Wichita, Gallimore (Yaremchuk, Walker), 12:03. Penalties — Wichita, Walker (fighting major), 4:27; Tulsa, Leahy (fighting major), 4:27; Wichita, Donaghy (hooking), 9:18; Wichita, Kurceba (tripping), 14:48; Tulsa, Cramer (too many men bench minor), 17:01.
Scoring — 2. Wichita, Kurceba PP (J. Martens, Csanyi), 16:09. Penalties — Tulsa, Willigar (hooking), 4:17; Tulsa, Barlock (tripping), 8:25; Tulsa, Carriere (roughing), 13:14; Wichita, Schneider (roughing), 13:14; Tulsa, Helmbrecht (tripping), 15:23; Tulsa, Skalski (fighting major), 17:18; Wichita, Gruenke (fighting major), 17:18; Wichita, Gallimore (too many men bench minor), 19:00.
Scoring — 3. Tulsa, Barlock (Fisher), 5:55; 4. Tulsa, Cramer (Fox, Skalski),12:15; 5. Wichita, Gallimore (Walker, Yaremchuk), 16:20. Penalties — Wichita, Hand (roughing), 6:07; Wichita, Hand (elbowing), 18:06.
Tulsa — Arcibal no, Cramer no, Fisher no, Skalski no, Leahy no; Wichita, Gallimore no, Hendrickson no, Summers yes, J. Martens no, Yaremchuk no.
Shots — Tulsa 13-10-9-0-0 — 32, Wichita 13-10-6-0-1 — 30. Saves — Tulsa, Mackinnon 21 on 22 shots, Perricone 5-7; Wichita, Nelson 22-23, 7-9. A — 1,911.