Ramsay: Thunder continues to move forward

Mark Schnabel
The Kansan
Wichita Thunder goaltender Evan Buitenhuis blocks a Rapid City Rush shot during ECHL play at INTRUST Bank Arena.

WICHITA — The Wichita Thunder hockey team has reached the first sixth of the season with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Rapid City Rush Wednesday in ECHL play at INTRUST Bank Arena, but Thunder coach Bruce Ramsay is optimistic about his team’s chances this season, if the team can remain healthy.

The Thunder is tied for third in the Mountain Division with 60 games to go in the season. Wichita had been surging after a slow start.

“We went through a rash of injuries and COVID issues as well, so we never had a full lineup since the first game of the season. We won that game 7-0 and the injuries piled up from there. We’ve been bringing in players. It will be nice to get some more back on Friday.”

Wichita Thunder forward Brayden Watts looks to secure a puck in the Rapid City defensive end during play Wednesday at INTRUST Bank Arena.
Wichita Thunder forward Matteo Gennaro chases down Rapid City Rush player Quinn Wichers during ECHL play Wednesday at the Kansas Coliseum.

Wichita is 6-5-1-0, five points (2 1/2 games) out of first place in the division. Wichita took second in the division last season to qualify for the playoffs for just the second time since the Thunder joined the ECHL in 2015. Wichita finished four points (two games) out of first place and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual Kelly Cup champion Fort Wayne Komets.

“We’re going in the same direction,” Ramsay said. “We want to be the best team in the division. Getting to the playoffs is goal no. 1. We had a team that was capable of winning the championship. We lost the fifth game of a best-of-five series to the eventual champion. It grinds on me and it grinds on the core of the guys we brought back.”

Wichita Thunder player Nick Minerva looks to get by Rapid City player Derek Perl during ECHL play at INTRUST Bank Arena.
Wichita Thunder player Andrew Shewfelt is challenged by Rapid City Rush player Tristan Thompson during play Wednesday at INTRUST Bank Arena.

Last season, just 14 of the league’s 26 members opted to play because of the COVID-19 outbreak. One team that declined to play — the Brampton Beast — folded.

This season, 27 teams took the ice — including expansion franchises Iowa Heartlanders and Trois-Rivières Lions.

Ramsay said the return of the suspended franchises and the expansion provides a new challenge.

“It’s different in the sense that last year, there were so many good players available for recruiting,” Ramsay said. “There were a lot of teams in Europe that didn’t go. This year, it’s much different. The caliber is not as good. That’s just the reality. We have a lot more players spread out over 27 teams compared to 14 teams. It’s a lot more work as a coach to make sure we bring in players that are dialed in, know our system and can execute it as well.”

In Wednesday’s game, Rapid City’s Triston Thompson scored the power-play game winner on assists from Logan Nelson and Stephen Baylis. Fourteen seconds before the goal, Wichita’s Cam Clarke drew a two-minute holding penalty, just Wichita’s third penalty of the night and just the fifth of the game.

“We got a shift caught out there for a long time in overtime,” Ramsay said. “It’s hard. They drew the penalty and the power play out there. I thought we were average tonight. We’ve played much better. I thought we needed a little more effort and passion out there. We earned a point out there and we’re 4-0-1 in the last five games.”

Wichita still has a long week ahead with three more games during the weekend. Wichita hosts Tulsa Saturday and Rapid City again on Saturday and Sunday.

“They’ll be fine,” Ramsay said. “I’ll give them the day off to enjoy their Thanksgiving turkey and all. We have three more home games coming up Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We need to capitalize on those and pick up some more points.”

Rapid City;0;1;0;1;—;2

Wichita;0;1;0;0;—;1

FIRST PERIOD — Scoring: none. Penalties: W Watts (high sticking) 6:15, RC Nelson (kneeing) 13:19, RC Thompson (tripping) 16:51.

SECOND PERIOD — Scoring: 1. RC Nelson (Baylis, Helgesen) 11:51, 2. W Dickman (Johnson, Crinella) 15:43. Penalties: Fleurent (high sticking) 8:55.

THIRD PERIOD — Scoring: none. Penalties: none.

OVERTIME — Scoring: 3. RC Thompson (Nelson, Baylis) 2:28-pp. Penalties: W Clarke (holding) 2:14.

Shots on goal — Rapid City 8-11-16-1—36, Wichita 9-9-13-0—31. Saves — Rapid City: Parik (W, 3-1-1-0) 9-8-13-0—30. Wichita: Buitenhuis (OTL, 6-5-1-0) 8-10-16-0—34.

Power plays — Rapid City 1 of 3, Wichita 0 of 2. Penalties-minutes — Rapid City 2-4, Wichita 3-6.

Referee — Heidemann. Linesmen — Rozitis, Heinen. Attendance — 2,055.