ECHL: Wichita Thunder 2022-2023 Year In Review

With the 2022-2023 Kelly Cup Conference Finals under way, it’s a good time to look back at what the season looked like for teams not competing in the postseason. One of the teams that fell short of making the playoffs this year was the Mountain Division’s Wichita Thunder. Wichita finished fifth place in the division this year, falling just one point out of playoff contention behind the Utah Grizzlies. It wasn’t a season in shambles for the Thunder, however. With crowds surpassing 10,000 and several players hitting the 60 point mark throughout the year, the Thunder can look optimistically forward for the 2023-2024 season.

Start and Stop:

Credit: Twitter/@Wichita_Thunder

The 2022-2023 season got off to a commanding start for the Thunder, winning seven of their first 10 games with a schedule dominated by appearances from the Allen Americans and the Tulsa Oilers. The team would stare down Mountain Division opponents 21 times in 37 meetings through the first half of the season, going 21-13-3 before the All-Star break. Inconsistency plagued the team through the back half of November but success was found in forwards Michal Stinil, Brayden Watts, and Quinn Preston come the month of December. The team went 10-4-0 during December, outscoring opponents 55-35.

January took a turn for the Thunder, who at the All-Star break were second in the Mountain Division and fourth in the conference. After a resounding 7-1 win against the Kansas City Mavericks on January 21st, the team would drop three straight games to the Idaho Steelheads on the 25th, 27th, and 28th of January. Those losses would lead to a slippery slope for Wichita, winning only seven games through the months of February and March.

It would be the last part of the season when the Wichita Thunder started to rebound after a long, tough run. Keeping themselves in the midst of potential playoff action, the Thunder won six of their last eleven games. Even with their playoff hopes coming down to the wire and picking up three of the possible four points up for grabs during the last week of the season, the Thunder would still fall just one point out of playoff contention. Finishing the season with a 33-32-6-1 record, the Thunder finished fifth in the Mountain Division and ninth in the Western Conference with 73 points.

Leading The Storm:

Wichita Thunder forward Michal Stinil. Credit: Twitter/@Wichita_Thunder

Four Wichita forwards cracked the 60 point mark this year with one of those players being Michal Stinil, who came one point shy of 80 this season. Stinil saw himself have a breakout sophomore season, scoring 31 goals and 48 assists in 65 games for a 79 point year. The forward played a big role in the dominating December the Thunder had, scoring ten goals and 15 assists as well as picking up his first hat trick. Stinil was named the ECHL Player Of The Week for the week of December 19th – 23rd and also earned the Player Of The Month title in December as well. Forwards Brayden Watts, Jay Dickman, and Quinn Preston all hit 60 points this season also. Brayden Watts picked up 63 points in 50 games, amassing 23 goals and 40 assists. Watts was named the team’s MVP and also represented the Thunder at the 2022-2023 All-Star game. Earning the Wichita Thunder Fan’s Choice Award was Jay Dickman. The forward collected 61 points in 67 games played (26g, 35a). 25 year old forward Quinn Preston took home the Thunder’s Rookie Of The Year accolades. Preston played 62 games for the Thunder this year, scoring 23 goals and 38 assists for a 61 point season.

Defenseman Cole MacDonald stole the show on the blueline, racking up 54 points in total. Through 68 games he scored 11 goals and tallied 43 assists, landing him in the top spot for points and assists by a defenseman in the league this season. He was also named the Thunder’s Defenseman Of The Year. He is joined by Dylan MacPherson who came in second in scoring amongst defensemen this season for Wichita. MacPherson played in 45 games this season, picking up 21 points with nine goals and twelve assists on the year.

The Thunder saw eight different players dress in goal for the year, with Evan Buitenhuis getting the bulk of the workload. Buitenhuis started in 30 games this season for the Thunder going 13-13-3-1. He ended the season with a .922 save percentage and a 2.90 goals against average. His efforts earned him the ECHL’s goaltender of the week for the week of November 7th – 13th. Picking up the second most games in net was goaltender Strauss Mann, playing 13 games this season in net for the Thunder. Mann went 9-3-1 while in net this season and ended the year with a 2.51 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. Mann also saw playing time with the Thunder’s AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda. The netminder picked up the ECHL’s Rookie Of The Month honors in October, and earned the ECHL Goaltender Of The Week award for the week of January 1st – January 8th. Roman Barsan was the goalie who saw the third most action during the 2022-2023 this season, playing in eleven games. Barsan ended the year with a 4-6-1 record. He possessed a 3.30 goals against average at year end but maintained the best save percentage of the Thunder goaltenders with .911. Also making apperances in net for Wichita this year were Zachary Emond, Trevor Gorsuch, Justin Kapelmaster, Eric Dop, and Brad Arvanitis.

Beyond The Ice:

In addition to the on-ice accomplishments the Thunder had a lot to celebrate off the ice as well. Thunder fans showed up in a big way this season, amassing crowds of 10,000+ twice in April. One of those occasions set a new record for the fourth largest attendance total in club history when 12,459 fans showed up to see the Thunder play the Allen Americans on April 14th. Additionally, Head Coach Bruce Ramsay celebrated two of his own milestones. The coach earned his 500th win this season in addition to celebrating his 1,000th game behind the bench. Ramsay recently signed a contract extension with the team on April 28th.

It may not have been the end to the season Wichita desired, but the team looks to be trending in the right direction for the upcoming 2023-2024 season. With both the support of the fans and the team’s offensive and defensive talent finding ways to contribute, the Thunder looked poised to capitalize on the progress they’ve made.

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is a freelance hockey reporter covering the ECHL's Jacksonville Icemen for Inside The Rink and the Vancouver Canucks for The Canuck Way. His work has been featured on Hockey of Tomorrow and The Daily Faceoff, and can be found on Twitter/X @FromTheDrewLine.

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