Just like any lasting New Year’s resolution, it may take a while before the Thunder’s January efforts produce tangible progress.
Wichita completed a three-win sweep of the weekend, beating Missouri for the second straight night, 2-1 Sunday at Intrust Bank Arena. The Thunder has a 4-2 record in 2014, but was only Sunday, after 36 games, able to climb into the Central Hockey League’s eighth and final playoff position.
The Thunder, though, is beginning to exhibit the traits it takes to make new trends permanent. Wichita played perhaps its most resilient game Sunday, with goalie David Brown stopping every shot after Missouri got one past him early in the first period, and Jon Booras scoring the game-winner after several Thunder attempts on the same play.
“This second half of the season here, we’ve really turned things around and we’re going the direction we want to be,” Brown said. “This was a good weekend for our hockey team, to go 3-in-3 and establish ourselves to the rest of the league, to show that we’re here for the long haul.”
The Thunder’s improvement actually began before the New Year, though Wichita has solidified its refinement with a current four-game winning streak that follows a three game losing skid.
Those losses came immediately after Wichita’s only other four-game winning streak this season; since Dec. 14, the Thunder is 9-4 since December 14, which, over a full-season, prorates to a 45-21 record. During that stretch, the Thunder has outscored opponents 52-34 and 42-15 in wins.
The best indicator of a team’s progress are the three-games-in-three-night periods that every team dreads but must endure. Wichita has gone 6-0 in those circumstances over the last three weeks. In the early stages of seven games in 12 days, the Thunder has the opportunity to show that it all means something.
“We’ve been playing pretty good hockey, consistent hockey, here for a little bit,” Booras said. “If we play a full 60 minutes, this team, we’re going to be a threat in the playoffs, that’s for sure.”
Booras personified Wichita’s newly discovered tenacity with his decisive goal in the second period. Several Thunder players tried to get the puck past Missouri goalie, Shane Owen, and the misses gave time for Owen’s teammates to aid the cause.
But Booras emerged and pushed it through the crowd, completing a play the once-embattled Thunder may not have owned the maturity to hang with during early-season struggles.
“(Matt Robinson) tried to shoot it, but it went off (Owen’s) pads, right to me,” Booras said. “I just tried to get it on net and it went in.
“We were hungry there, and guys were battling right in front of the net, and guys didn’t give up. When you work hard, bounces start to go your way.”
Brown’s play in net ensured that Booras’s goal held up as the difference. The Thunder finds itself with two productive goalies, including Taylor Nelson, who possess nearly identical numbers, and their play has helped spur Wichita’s improvement.
Brown has won three starts in a row, surrendering two goals or fewer in all of them, to even his record at 6-6.
“I’ve been here for a little while now, and I feel very comfortable,” said Brown, who joined the Thunder from Allen in late November. “Being able to play a lot of games in this building and be able to practice, and getting accustomed to the environment, has been great. It feels like home.”
Scoring—1. Missouri, Franzon (Kell, Dickson), 3:18; 2. Wichita, Klempa (Flath, Summers), 16:48. Penalties—Wichita, Donaghy (boarding), :26; Wichita, Donaghy (fighting major), 7:45; Missouri, Stephenson (fighting major), 7:45; Missouri, Kell (interference), 10:54; Wichita, Gruenke (interference), 14:28; Wichita, Linden (hooking), 19:06; Missouri, Courtney (delay of game bench minor), 19:48.
Scoring—3. Wichita, Booras (Robinson, Martens), 19:14. Penalties—Missouri, Franzon (interference), 0:39; Wichita, Martens (cross checking), 6:44; Missouri, Thinel (interference), 11:27; Wichita, Lowe (fighting major), 15:52; Missouri, Odegaard (fighting major), 15:52; Wichita, Klempa (tripping), 17:59; Missouri, Stephenson (cross checking), 18:54.
Scoring—None. Penalties—Missouri, Kell (high sticking), 5:31; Missouri, Thinel (high sticking double minor), 7:50; Missouri, Hayes (slashing), 11:24; Wichita, M. Wilson (holding), 14:35; Missouri, Castonguay (unsportsmanlike conduct), 14:35.
Power play—Missouri 0-5, Wichita 0-9. Shots—Missouri 11-9-3—23, Wichita 6-15-11-32. Saves—Missouri, Owen 30-32; Wichita, Brown 22-23.