A 7-1 loss to Missouri on New Year’s Eve put the Thunder in a fighting mood.
But Wichita couldn’t take out its aggression on another opponent for two days, so the first days of 2016 were spent getting acquainted with one another in a way coach Kevin McClelland can appreciate.
“We got into (Indianapolis) at 9 in the morning and we were right on the ice first thing. I don’t even think the bus was turned off,” McClelland said. “Guys paid the price in practice, and we made sure they rubbed shoulders and got to know each other a little bit.”
The Thunder beat Indy the following night, and won at Evansville one day later. In its second ECHL season, Wichita won consecutive road games for the third time and began to see positive results that may have only been possible with some holiday wishes.
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That’s when the uptick occurred, anyway. Since Dec. 26, a 7-1 loss to Missouri was an outlier during a stretch that included two post-regulation losses, another one-goal defeat, and the Thunder’s first road wins since the day before Thanksgiving.
“We’ve got to keep positive,” Thunder defenseman Dan Milan said. “I feel something positive just after Christmas. Everyone is kind of refreshed and we have some new faces, and they’ve been helping out as well. I thought at the beginning of the season that we had a lot of hard workers and guys that want to win, so hopefully this is a sign that we’re going to keep doing so.”
McClelland has mostly tinkered with the roster, keeping the same core intact while attempting to address the Thunder’s power play, a failure to consistently win face-offs and the uphill battle the defense faces because of those deficiencies.
This week’s move, acquiring forward Kale Karbashian from Rapid City for 2015 All-Star Danick Gauthier, doesn’t fall into the same category. Gauthier was the Thunder’s leading scorer last season and was expected to reach similar heights, but he didn’t score until Wichita’s 13th game.
Gauthier had 12 points in 30 games and Wichita was outscored by 18 goals while he was on the ice. Kerbashian helped Allen win the ECHL championship last year, Allen’s – and Wichita’s – first in the league.
“(Kerbashian)’s not tearing it up like he usually is and (Gauthier) hasn’t set it on fire here,” McClelland said. “…It made sense to do it, and some things happened and we made the deal. The deal made sense for our hockey club, and I think it was the right time to do it.”
The Thunder’s previous moves didn’t lead to an immediate reversal of fortunes, but the difference was noticed in the dressing room.
“Every move we’ve made has definitely improved our team,” Milan said. “The positivity of coming to the rink every day, that helps build chemistry as well. When you have a negative attitude, it’s not going to help things. The way we’ve kind of stuck it out is starting to go in our favor.”
Tulsa at Thunder
- When: 7:05 p.m. Friday
- Where: Intrust Bank Arena
- Records: Tulsa 14-11-2-2, Thunder 9-20-1-3
- Broadcast: wichitathunder.com