The Thunder played its most impressive game of the young season on Wednesday, beating Tulsa 2-0 at Intrust Bank Arena. It was a solid performance if not flashy, and that’s all coach Kevin McClelland can expect from a reshaped roster three games into the season.
“You throw 20 guys and everyone expects them to go out there and be the Harlem Globetrotters,” McClelland said. “It’s a process, and there’s going to still be some (transactions), obviously. You just keep plugging away.”
Wichita’s offseason was only slightly more organized than McClelland’s description.
The Thunder moved into the ECHL with six other former Central Hockey League teams in the first week of October, and that led to a string of transaction that included waiver pickups, assignments of players from NHL teams, and the retirement of Thunder captain Andrew Martens.
Wichita was still making moves on the day of the first game, when it added an emergency backup goaltender after Tyler Bunz was reassigned to the American Hockey League by Edmonton of the NHL.
Every former CHL team dealt with similar circumstances, and it seemed to affect cohesion for all of them, as 30 combined goals were scored in the three opening-weekend games between former CHL clubs.
The Thunder fixed its early difficulties sooner than most, shutting down a Tulsa team that scored 15 goals in winning its first two games.
“Obviously you need that, you want to get rid of that goose egg in the far-left (wins) column,” McClelland said.
There were signs of a potential breakout as the Thunder was losing its first two games. Wichita trailed Tulsa 4-1 in the first period of a road game on Sunday, but forced that game to overtime, then employed the tactics used to slow down the Oilers again on Wednesday.
In a season-opening loss to Allen, Wichita’s offense showed positive signs even as it struggled on the power play. Jared Walker scored a short-handed goal, and Kurtis Bartliff and Stephen Schultz worked a perfect 2-on-1 break that looked like they had been linemates far longer than just an hour or so.
Wichita doesn’t appear to be missing many facets. In Jim Jorgensen, Dan Milan and Theo Peckham, the Thunder boasts a trio of defensive-minded defensemen in years following the team getting more offense from that position.
The Thunder’s scoring output looks to be more traditional this season. Alex Bourret’s 5-on-3 goal Wednesday was the first by Wichita’s top line, but several other forwards are contributing to there being little dropoff when the Thunder changes shifts.
Goalie Tim Boron was a victim of the philosophy that suggests offenses are quicker to get going than defenses, but he produced many highlights in Wednesday’s shutout.
“We’ve got a great group of guys here,” Boron said. “Last weekend was our first two games, so we were just getting the feel out. Game three we came together. We’d been working hard in practice and getting to know each other, and we felt really good as a group (Wednesday).”
Missouri at Thunder
When: 7:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Intrust Bank Arena
Records: Missouri 0-2-0-0, Thunder 1-1-1-0