The early-season success of the Thunder, after four straight years with no playoff appearances, seems real. Wichita’s 5-4 overtime win over Utah on Sunday at Intrust Bank Arena gave the Thunder the ECHL’s best record at 8-1.
Coach Malcolm Cameron doesn’t want his team to feel anointed just yet. The Thunder had third-period breakdowns in each of two home games this weekend, including Friday’s loss to Allen, and the talent hasn’t yet overshadowed Cameron’s teaching moments.
Utah tied Sunday’s game with three third-period goals before the Thunder salvaged what had looked like a sure win with Greg Chase’s overtime goal. Wichita went 2-1 for the weekend, avenging the Allen loss with a road victory on Saturday.
“I think guys maybe got a little too overconfident thinking we had this one in the bag,” Cameron said. “One bad play leads to a goal, then all of a sudden another quick one and it becomes a (close) hockey game.
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“This lesson didn’t cost us anything in terms of points, which is wonderful. It did on Friday night, but I always look at the big picture moving forward. This is one we put in our memory banks.”
The Thunder’s talent is undeniable. Cameron’s recruiting efforts, and the affiliation with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, has provided the Thunder with a deep roster that forces several players to become healthy scratches every game.
Chase, a product of the affiliation, scored his first two goals on Sunday. Adding him to a lineup that includes Kyle Platzer (14 points in nine games) and Zach O’Brien (nine in nine) begins to fulfill the depth Cameron promised in the offseason.
Three other players scored their first Thunder goals on Sunday – Travis Brown, Guillaume Lepine and Istvan Sofron.
“It’s competitive to get into our lineup right now,” Cameron said. “Sofron has got five points in his last three games, and he sat out last night. It’s competitive to get into our lineup each and every night.
“At some point in time, injuries and call-ups will play factors, and guys will end up having to change their roles and get more increased minutes. We’ve got some very good players not in the lineup tonight.”
The talent was evident as the Thunder jumped to a 4-1 lead after two periods. Wichita played faster, more skillful and with superior goaltending before those things reversed for most of the third period.
Utah turned aggressive and tightened its defense, holding the Thunder to three shots after Wichita took 31 in the first 40 minutes.
Overtime seemed like a worst-case scenario but the Thunder rediscovered its energy, dominating possession in a two-plus-minute overtime leading to Chase’s second goal.
“We have a great leadership group and they were all talking on the bench,” Cameron said. “We’ve got to get going here, guys, get your feet moving, start getting first to the puck. The game’s about the puck – the team that gets to the puck first generally has the most success.”
First period—1. Utah, Eick (Saar, Higby), 6:53; 2. Wichita, Sofron (Crevier-Morin, Ewanyk), 9:55; 3. Wichita, Lepine (Crevier-Morin, Platzer), 18:28.
Second period—4. Wichita, Brown SH (Beaudry, Stevenson), 2:23; 5. Wichita, Chase PP (Bauer, MacMillan), 13:44.
Third period—6. Utah, Jones (Walters, Olsen), 2:04; 7. Utah, Saar (Leibinger, Jones), 8:14; 8. Utah, Pelech (Thomas, Misiak), 11:32.
Overtime—9. Wichita, Chase (MacMillan, Doornbosch), 2:34.
Power play—Utah 0-4, Wichita 1-4. Shots—Utah 9-9-9-1—28, Wichita 14-17-3-5—39. Goalies—Utah, Carr 39 shots-34 saves; Wichita, Starrett 28-24.
Wichita 3, Allen 1
First period–No Scoring.
Second period–1, Wichita, Bauer 3 (Chase, Doornbosch), 4:59. 2, Allen, Pochiro 7 (MacArthur, Asuchak), 13:10. 3, Wichita, Boutet 1 (O'Brien, Platzer), 17:43.
Third period–4, Wichita, Crevier-Morin 2 (O'Brien), 19:30 (EN).
Shots–Wichita 6-13-11-30. Allen 6-12-12-30. Power play–Wichita 0-4; Allen 0-2. Goalies-Wichita, Starrett30-29. Allen, Williams 29-27.