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Rolling Thunder: Injuries? COVID? Don’t Care!

Photo Courtesy: Duane Wilkinson/Special to Wichita Thunder

Rolling Thunder: Injuries? COVID? Don’t Care!

WICHITA, Kan. – Welcome back to Rolling Thunder, our look back at the week-that-was and what lies ahead for the Wichita Thunder. Last week was a clean slate for Wichita, bagging all the possible points in a week for the first time this season.

The Past Week:

Three games against Allen & Tulsa (3-0-0-0, 6 of 6 possible points earned)

  • Sunday, November 14 @ Allen – Brayden Watts scored 23 seconds into the third period and Wichita held off a late power-play chance from Allen to take a 2-1 victory at the Allen Event Center. Carter Johnson tallied his fourth goal of the year and Evan Buitenhuis earned his fourth win, stopping 21 shots.
  • Friday, November 19 @ Tulsa – Jay Dickman scored in the sixth round of the shootout to push Wichita past Tulsa by the final of 4-3 at the BOK Center.  Nick Minerva scored twice, including a shorthanded goal to tie the game and forced overtime. Carter Johnson had two points and Buitenhuis earned his fifth win of the season.
  • Saturday, November 20 vs. Tulsa – Wichita returned home on Saturday night to start a five-game homestand. The Thunder used a big third period to pull away from the Tulsa Oilers for a 5-1 victory at INTRUST Bank Arena. Leading 2-1 heading into the third, the Thunder scored three times in the final frame to blow the game wide open. Matteo Gennaro scored a pair, Tim Soderlund tallied three points and Evan Buitenhuis earned his sixth win of the season, making 27 saves. Peter Crinella and Christian Hausinger also scored for Wichita.

The Pros:

  • Since the third period collapse against Wheeling, the Thunder have outscored their opponents 9-3 in third periods. They now have a plus goal differential in every period for the first time since opening night.
  • Penalty kills show the work ethic of a team, and the work ethic for this Thunder club could not be stronger. In seven games this month, the Thunder have allowed just two power-play goals, killing off 28 of 30 opponent power-plays (93.3% kill rate)
  • Last season, the Thunder allowed way too many shots on net. This year, through 11 games, the team sits mid-pack in the ECHL, allowing an average of 32.36 shots/game. This month, they’ve allowed more than 30 shots in a game just three times. The 47 shots allowed to Tulsa Friday night were a season-high for the club.
  • After allowing shorthanded goals in two of their first four games to open the season, the Thunder have not allowed a shorthanded marker in the last seven games.

The Cons:

  • If there is a con here, it is this: The Thunder has put this run of success together while still missing key pieces to their lineup, and with next to no help from Bakersfield/Edmonton. Team captain and defenseman Alex Peters is still a ways out, as is spark plug Stephen Johnson, and rookie forward Tyler Jeanson.
  • Billy Exell was placed on the league’s Commissioner Exempt list (COVID protocol) last week, and it remains to be seen how extensive the latest COVID outbreak is or will be.
  • The power-play has struggled this month as a whole, but has found some success recently. With goals in three of their last four games, the power-play units have gone 3-22 this month (13.6% efficiency).

The Stats:

  • Goals: Crinella – 6
  • Assists: Cam Clarke – 9
  • Points: Dickman & Gennaro – 11 each
  • Plus/Minus: C. Johnson & Minerva – +6 each
  • PIMs: Sean Allen – 52 (4 fights)
  • Rookie Scoring Leader: C. Johnson – 9 pts (5G, 4A)
  • Goalies:
    • Evan Buitenhuis: 6-5-0-0, 2.36 GAA, .927 sv%, 1 SO

Boots’ Start Streak:

There is absolutely no doubt the MVP for the first six weeks of this ECHL season has to be Evan Buitenhuis. He is first in minutes played (661), tied for first in wins (6), and first in saves (328). Having started every game this season for the Thunder, I was wondering what the team record for consecutive starts to open a season was?

The answer: 15. That was the number of consecutive starts goaltender Bobby Desjardins made in a period from December 31, 1992 to January 29, 1993. During that span, “Bobby D” went 8-6-1 for the Thunder and helped the team break the .500 mark that season.

The modern-day ECHL record for consecutive starts goes to future ECHL Hall of Famer Joel Martin of the Kalamazoo Wings, who started 15 straight games to start the 2006-07 season.

There is no doubt that the start streak Buitenhuis is in rarified air, but I think it’s fair to assume that given the four-game week Wichita has ahead, he won’t be starting all of those. Call it a “warning track shot.”

The Coming Week:

Rushin’ Down the Plains:

For the first time this season, the Rapid City Rush come to town, opening a four-game week for the Thunder on Wednesday night. Rapid City took three of six possible points from the Allen Americans last week, and sit just two points behind the Thunder in the race for the fourth playoff spot in the Mountain.

Their leading scorer happens to be former Thunder forward Logan Nelson, who has 12 points on the season (3G, 9A). Nelson has posted three straight 40-point seasons, the most recent one came as captain of the SPHL’s Birmingham Bulls last season.

Goaltending has been a strength of the Rush’s since they paired up with the Arizona Coyotes, and this year is no different. Both goalies who have seen the majority of the action this season are on NHL & AHL deals.

Livin’ on Tulsa Time:

The Tulsa Oilers come back to Wichita for a Black Friday affair with the Thunder. Wichita has won two straight to open the season series.

Can’t Make it to the Arena?

Games on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday are scheduled for a 7:05 pm puck drop. Get your game night started with the Field Pass Hockey Pregame Show, starting at 6:30 pm on the Field Pass Hockey app. Sunday afternoon’s game is a 4:05 pm puck drop, with the pregame show starting at 3:30 pm.

You can listen to every Wichita Thunder game this season on the Field Pass Hockey app.

Around the ECHL:

  • Toledo travels to Cincinnati for a Central division tilt tomorrow night
  • Allen takes on Idaho in Boise Friday night
  • Norfolk plays Orlando in a South division contest Saturday evening
  • Utah and Tulsa square off in a meeting of two of the Mountain division’s top teams on Sunday
  • And lest we forget…the biggest matchup of all…You versus a plate full of Thanksgiving food! We all know you will win the battle, but tryptophan always wins the war.

Have a great and blessed Thanksgiving!

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2023 season!

    Matthew Harding is the Managing Editor for Field Pass Hockey, covers the ECHL and the Wichita Thunder. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHThunder.

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