After a league change and several other developments, the Wichita Thunder have endured into their 25th season.
The Thunder began play in 1992 as members of the Central Hockey League (CHL). On the ice, the Thunder found success, winning three league titles, and managed to find a new venue when Intrust Bank Arena opened in 2010.
Given the arena and steady fan support, the Thunder would seem to have a formula that makes longevity an inevitability, but that has not always been the case. Questions about the team’s status emerge earlier this decade, when it became clear that Horn Chen was looking to sell the Thunder.
However, with Brandon, Johnny, and Rodney Steven taking over ownership in 2011, the Thunder managed to play through the CHL’s final 2013-14 campaign, before becoming one of the franchises to shift to the ECHL for the 2014-15 season. After surviving the CHL’s ending and, over this offseason, securing an affiliation with the Ottawa Senators, the Thunder believe that they are in a good position. More from the Wichita Eagle:
“As I tell many people, if Rodney and Brandon didn’t come along and buy the Thunder, we might not be here,” said general manager Joel Lomurno, who has worked for the team since 1993. “It’s been great. They’re huge fans, they come to every game, and they want to see us win as much as everyone else.”
The Thunder has missed the playoffs three straight years, the last two in the ECHL, but the Senators affiliation might be the latest savior.
New coach Malcolm Cameron orchestrated the one-year agreement which has seen several potential higher-level players assigned to the Thunder by Ottawa. It’s a short-term deal that brings true prospects to Wichita for the first time and may help spur the next quarter-century.
“I don’t think anyone 20 years ago realized that there would go from five Double-A hockey leagues to one,” Lomurno said. “Of the 100-plus Double-A hockey teams that have been around since ’92 or popped up in between, only 27 are left. That says a lot about the staying power.
Wichita’s first game of the 2016-17 season will be played Saturday at Intrust Bank Arena.