The Thunder plays one hockey team from the ECHL’s Eastern Division this season, and if it could have its pick, Wichita might have selected Norfolk or Brampton, the teams most likely to be beaten.
But in a “just our luck” scenario, the Thunder’s Eastern opponent was South Carolina, which strolled into Wichita after just beating the league’s best team, Missouri, and with two players sent down from the Triple-A American Hockey League.
South Carolina defeated the Thunder 5-1 and 4-1 in a weekend set. It was the Stingrays’ first appearance in Wichita, but the Thunder was already used to difficult opponents.
Wichita (11-31-6-5) has played 44 of its 53 games this season against teams that would be in the playoffs if they began today. The Thunder has played four more against Quad City, which has a winning record but isn’t currently in the postseason.
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The Thunder’s schedule is made more difficult by the division and the conference in which it plays, but even on the rare venture outside of those, Wichita gets no breaks.
“It’s always tough, but you’ve got to be able to get up for those games,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said.
Ten of the 14 teams in the Western Conference have winning records, and the Thunder has played all of them except for Midwest Division-leading Fort Wayne. The most challenging opponents are within Wichita’s own division, the Central, which boasts three likely playoff teams in Missouri, Allen and Tulsa.
The Thunder combines for 41 of 72 games against those teams and has struggled against all of them, losing all 12 meetings against Missouri, all eight against Allen and seven of 10 to Tulsa.
“You always like to see a few more teams, too,” McClelland said. “I know it’s difficult with the travel all over the place, too, but you’d like to see it spread out a little bit. We’ve lost so many one-goal games and overtime games and shootout games to so many teams in our conference.”
The Thunder’s schedule lightens down the stretch, with eight of the final 19 games against current non-postseason teams. Wichita played arguably its best two games last weekend in splitting with Idaho, so the final six weeks offers a chance to end the year on a positive note.
“You want to make a run,” McClelland said. “… It seems like every night we’re in for an uphill battle. But you go out to practice and you wouldn’t think it’s a team that’s in the situation we’re in. Guys are upbeat, practicing hard and they can’t wait to get back on the ice. That’s a good sign.”
Allen at Thunder
- When: 7:05 p.m. Friday
- Where: Intrust Bank Arena
- Records: Allen 29-19-3-2, Thunder 11-31-6-5
- Broadcast: wichitathunder.com