It was difficult to pinpoint a best-case scenario for the Thunder prior to Friday night’s home game against Toledo, the second-best team in the ECHL by points percentage.
The worst-case scenario didn’t materialize either, as Wichita prevented a runaway in Toledo’s 4-1 win at Intrust Bank Arena, but worst-case already has the Thunder firmly in its clutches.
Friday’s loss was the Thunder’s 11th straight and continued a downward spiral that began more than two months ago and doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. Wichita (15-28-3-1) meets Toledo (34-12-2-1) again on Saturday night.
“The effort we put in tonight, we probably could have won against a lot of teams,” Thunder coach Malcolm Cameron said.
The Thunder started play on Dec. 16 with an 11-9 record with wins in four of its previous six games. Wichita lost that night 6-1 to Allen, beginning a skid that, once it was over, wasn’t supposed to signal further regression.
That nine-game losing streak, during which the Thunder suffered three consecutive shutouts, is beginning to look rosy by comparison. Wichita, with 10 rookies still waiting for a positive hockey experience, has been blown out in most games since Jan. 25, when the current streak began.
The Thunder has been outscored 61-30 during this streak, and on Friday snapped a string of goals allowed in 14 consecutive periods. Toledo was shut out in the second but scored two power-play goals in the first four-plus minutes and added another first-period goal for good measure.
“Other than the first five minutes of the game, we played a pretty good hockey game,” Cameron said. “The shots were even. They’re a much more veteran team than us, a much older team than us. It’s 2-1 the last 55 minutes of the hockey game.
“…I can’t fault lack them for trying, and you can’t ask guys that are first-year players and aren’t goal scorers to score goals in place of the guys we have out of the lineup.”
The Thunder is short-handed because of several call-ups to Triple-A Binghamton, where most of Wichita’s former best players now reside.
Cameron said he is in “teaching mode” because of his young roster and that he has turned his attention toward finding players who can contribute toward a winning record in 2018.
Wichita, though, has stalled since two consecutive Central Hockey League finals appearances in 2012 and 2013. The Thunder is on its way to a fourth straight year with no playoffs and its losing streak is the longest since it dropped 22 in a row during a nine-win 2009-10 season.
The Thunder’s energy level for much of Friday’s game seem to suggest the young players haven’t become disillusioned by the team’s plight.
“I’ve been around long enough to know who you can win with moving forward,” Cameron said. “… Our guys work hard, our guys try hard. Do we have first-year players that try and do too much and play out of their skillset? One-hundred percent we do.
“It’s my job to break them and give them more of a pro mentality, but that’s what you get with young players.”
First period—1. Toledo, Tyson Spink PP (Rankin, Tylor Spink), 2:18; 2. Toledo, Rankin PP (Tyson Spink, Borowski), 4:14; 3. Wichita, St-Cyr (O’Brien, Vanier), 7:33; 4. Toledo, Nastasiuk (Berschbach, Schmitz), 13:34. Penalties—Wichita, Friedmann (hooking), 1:20; Wichita, Tatchell (hooking), 2:40; Wichita, Melindy (10 min. misconduct), 5:49; Toledo, Jeke (holding), 15:26).
Second period—none. Penalties—Toledo, Leone (holding), 6:02; Wichita, St-Cyr (tripping), 10:42.
Third period—5. Toledo, Tylor Spink (Tyson Spink, Borowski), 4:03. Penalties—Toledo, Schmitz (hooking), 0:54.
Power play—Toledo 2-3, Wichita 0-3. Shots—Toledo 14-12-6—32, Wichita 12-7-10—29. Saves—Toledo, Paterson 28-29; Wichita, Owsley 28-32.
Toledo at Thunder
- When: 7:05 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Intrust Bank Arena
- Records: Toledo 34-12-2-1, Thunder 15-28-3-1
- Broadcast: wichitathunder.com