The Thunder has developed an assembly-line quality early this season. New parts are being added consistently, but the finished product doesn’t seem to change.
A switch from the Central Hockey League to the ECHL in October forced haste in the Thunder’s offseason, with some veteran players being let go or, in the case of former captain Andrew Martens, announcing retirement.
But the hectic nature of the last month, which has also included the assignment of players by NHL organizations to Wichita, hasn’t been evident on the ice.
New players are blending well and Thunder personnel is expressing excitement over what they can add rather than worry about how they might detract from previous plans.
“You’ve got to play with guys and you’re never going to know what guys are really going to do until you start playing with them,” said Thunder captain Theo Peckham. “You don’t want to dwell on the fact that we didn’t have any (exhibition games), but with the way the league format was, that’s just how it worked out and we ended up dropping the first two games.
“Lately, as the season starts to go on, we’re slowly starting to jell and it’s been pretty nice. It’s nice to watch.”
Peckham meshed instantly with defenseman partner Dan Milan, who was assigned to Wichita by the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning just before the season began. Peckham and Milan possess many of the same qualities, but they’re just different enough to complement each other well.
The same is true for defensemen Jim Jorgensen and Dalton Reum. Jorgensen has been a scoring threat in the past, but he’s at his best when preventing goals. With five defense-first defensemen, including Michael Trebish, the Thunder has allowed five goals over its last 220 regulation minutes.
On offense, Wichita is similarly adaptable. Danick Gauthier was added last week on assignment from Tampa Bay and scored two goals in his first game. The Thunder’s lines weren’t disrupted by Gauthier’s addition but boosted instead, and five players have scored at least twice through five games.
“You just throw Gauthier on that line with (Kenton) Miller and (Stephen) Schultz,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “They had a pretty good game (Saturday) night, that’s their first game together. If that’s any indication, then it’s going to be fun to watch those guys.”
Around the ECHL
▪ Matt Tassone, who played three games for the Thunder in 2012-13, was named ECHL player of the week. Tassone combined for three goals and three assists in helping Elmira win two games against Brampton.
▪ The 2-1-1-1 Thunder is the only ECHL team to record at least one of each result, with one regulation defeat and losses in overtime and in a shootout. With at least one point in four of five games, Wichita has six points and trails Tulsa by a point in the Central division.
Trevor Jobe holds the league record for goals in a season, scoring 85 for Nashville in 1992-93. Jobe played for 33 teams in 14 leagues during his career and had four 100-point seasons. One of those was for the Thunder, as he scored 125 points and had 139 penalty minutes in 56 games in 1996-97.
Days gone by
The Louisiana IceGators helped the ECHL reach 4 million it total attendance in 1996-97 by becoming the first team to top 400,000. The IceGators were led that year by Ron Handy’s 100 points. Handy totaled 178 points in leading the Thunder to CHL championships in 1993-94 and 94-95. The IceGators now play in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Allen’s Garrett Clarke was suspended for four games for a non-penalized hit against Rapid City on Oct. 31. Clarke totaled 411 penalty minutes in the last two CHL seasons.
Wichita has averaged 10.2 penalty minutes, second-fewest in the league. The Thunder is the only team with fewer than two major penalties.
He said it
“Not only the goals, but earlier on he came from their goal line to our blue line and stripped a guy from behind. Little things like that, that maybe not everybody sees, are the type of things that are going to take this team to the next level.”
– Peckham on Gauthier’s immediate contributions