The Kansas City Mavericks are back in action as they welcome their foes from just down I-35, the Wichita Thunder, for a two-game set here in Kansas City before heading back to Wichita for a Sunday matinee affair. Both teams are still trying to find their footing in the early goings of this season as they share a combined record of 4-6-2. The weekend set will give both teams a chance to right their respective ship, and possibly make some movement in the standings.
Much like Kansas City, the Thunder had a busy offseason full of change with new faces aplenty throughout the organization. A change of leadership behind the bench and on the ice provides Wichita with new voices and several young players across their roster. So, let’s take a look at the new-look Thunder as we get you ready for this big Mountain Division matchup.
Out with the old…….Some key players for last season’s Thunder squad have gone elsewhere over the offseason. Former Mavs captain Tyler Elbrecht hung up the skates, defenseman Keoni Texeira signed with the Indy Fuel, Ralph Cuddemi and Jeremy Beaudry are now with the Reading Royals, Dyson Stevenson landed himself an AHL deal, and Steven Iacobellis is currently with Bakersfield. Those are definitely some big shoes to fill on the ice, but also some key voices to lose in the locker room. There is a ton of leadership that left town with those departures which makes the task of replacing them doubly daunting.
In with the new……Prior to concerning themselves with filling any roster spots, Wichita first had to find a replacement for coach Malcolm Cameron who was fired after three years at the helm. Cameron was brought in to pull Wichita out of the doldrums of the ECHL, and while he was partially successful by bringing them back into relevance, he was unable to get his squad over the hump and turn them into a true Kelly Cup contender. The Thunder then turned to a familiar face in Bruce Ramsay to lead their team this season. That name likely sounds familiar as Ramsay is the former bench boss of the Tulsa Oilers. Ramsay has a solid history of success in AA hockey and will try to pick up where Cameron left off, with the ultimate goal of bringing consistently competitive and successfully hockey back to the city of Wichita.
On the ice, there are several new faces that Ramsay has brought in to reshape this roster. There are several familiar names but also some exciting new players that are hoping to turn the page for this franchise:Chris Crane – The former Maverick is off to a great start in his first season with Wichita. He leads the team in goals (5) and points (8). His 1.33 points per game is higher than his career average, but if he’s able to give 75% of his current pace, he’ll be a huge factor for this Thunder offense.
Stefan Fournier – Acquired from Orlando last season, Fournier put up 29 points in 38 games. He currently has six points in six games for the Thunder and is also a leader in the locker room. Even if his production drops off, he still provides a great impact on and off the ice.
Jack Combs – Ah, yes. The man who turned his nose up to the Mavericks organization a few years ago is back in the ECHL. Combs held the hockey world hostage after his return for Europe, which saw the Mavericks claim him on waivers, and former coach Richard Matvichuk claim that he was “the best AA hockey player in the world.” Combs never reported to KC and eventually landed in Stockton (who was still in the ECHL at the time). Combs had the opportunity to become a legend here and chose otherwise. At 31 years of age, he’s not the young pup he used to be, but still has plenty left in the tank. He’s appeared in one game for Wichita, picking up two points including the game-winning goal. If he is still the player he was a few years back, he’ll be a 30+ goal scorer for the Thunder.
Jakob Stukel – One piece of the youth movement in Wichita, Stukel would have hit the 20-goal plateau last season had he not been called up to Bakersfield. The former 6th round pick of the Vancouver Canucks is yet to find the score sheet for Wichita in three games this season, but we’ve seen him inflict damage on the Mavs in the past.
Evan Weninger – The 23-year-old netminder is a former Maverick in a way as he played his collegiate hockey just up the road at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. After a pair of Amateur Tryouts with Florida and South Carolina, he landed with the Allen Americans this offseason. After getting cut in Training Camp, Weninger later returned to Allen only to be traded to Wichita this past week. The Thunder have had some brilliant goaltending in recent years thanks to the likes of Shane Starrett and Dylan Wells, and if Weninger is given a chance to string some starts together, he could be next in line. The sample size is small, but he’s performed well when give an opportunity.
The Mavericks have a chance to string a few wins together after a tough split with Toledo last weekend. Kansas City has played five of their six games against the two teams that squared off in the Western Conference Finals last season, a tough stretch indeed. However, Wichita is a bit of a wildcard. No one can quite figure out what this team brings to the table yet, but we will all get to see it firsthand this weekend. A solid 180 minutes of hockey for the Mavs will elevate them in the standings, knock their foes from Wichita down a peg, and hopefully propel Kansas City into a stretch of wins over the coming weeks. It’s always entertaining hockey when Wichita comes to town.