Under the Hood: Wichita Jr. Thunder

by WSHL Staff

Wichita Jr. Thunder

2018-2019 Finish: Mid-Western Division Quarter Final

Standings/Record: 13W-35L-2OTL-1OTW (5th MW)

                                                              (2017 Photo by Tim Broussard, Ogden Mustangs)

The Wichita Jr. Thunder are enamored of the chance to win the Thorne Cup. In case you forgot, they won it all in 2016-2017, defeating a very strong Jr. Steelheads squad.

The trend for Wichita when looking at the bigger picture is that since 2012-2013, they have gone from bottom of the table, to contenders, to champion, and back to the bottom in sporadic fashion.

They had very little wins in their first two seasons, which isn’t a surprise for new teams. They steadily climbed to 17-wins and then reached their magic number of 30-wins in 2015-2016. They surpassed 30-wins in their championship season but then experienced their worst season in team history the following year. 

It took three seasons in the hole for the Jr. Thunder to figure things out and reach contender status; they are now going on their third season since hoisting the Thorne Cup. Wichita will hope to gain ground on 30-wins to stay true to the trend.

The team is losing valuable players in Tyler Inlow, Erik Back, and hasn’t announced Marcus Ohlsson-Ornelius yet—their top three scorers. Also, grizzled vet, John Lebar will no longer patrol the blue line in Wichita.

New Coach

The Jr. Thunder will have to start the quest without long time head coach, Rob Weingartner, behind the bench. Weingartner will still work closely with the team but Matt Summers has been named as the new head coach.

Summers played 411 games in the CHL over the course of a decade playing for Laredo, Mississippi, and Wichita. Summers’s coaching background stems from the Tri-City Hawks of the USPHL and OCN Blizzard of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

“I’m very excited to join the Wichita Jr. Thunder organization and help pitch in to keep the team going in the right direction,” Head Coach Summers said. “With the support and guidance from Steven Brothers Sports Management, Rob Weingartner has built a solid program here in Wichita highlighted by the Thorne Cup Championship in 2017.”

Notable Returners

(Photo of O'Reilly by Mark Mauno, WSHL)

Quinn O’Reilly is staring at a monster season ahead of him. The third year forward scored 34-points last season with 15 goals and 19 assists. He is the highest scoring returner pending on any announcement made regarding Ohlsson-Ornelius. O’Reilly was a heavily penalized player leading his team with 141 PIMs.

“Quinn has shown flashes of offensive brilliance last year and possesses a very good shot,” Owner/Former Head Coach Rob Weingartner said. “He needs to stay focused and stay out of the penalty box, he has grown a bunch this year and is now 6’2 175-pounds going into the season, if he can build some muscle this year, he should be able to put up big numbers.”

O’Reilly is a very young veteran as he started his junior career at only 15-years-old with the Jr. Thunder. He lit the lamp frequently in the first half of last season cashing in seven multi-point games—including a six point game—by Showcase.

The Jr. Thunder named returner, Jake Bullock, as team captain for the coming season, per Rob Weingartner. Bullock will certainly hit 100 WSHL games having started with the Seattle Totems in 2017-2018. The Washington native is a stay-at-home defenseman who scored his first goal for the Jr. Thunder last season and five helpers.

“We were very lucky for Jake [Bullock] to land in our backyard last season, I got a call from Mike [Murphy] up in Seattle and said he has a player for us, we got the trade done and have been thrilled with his play since he got here. He is very defensive defenseman but did express that he would like to be more offensive this season."

 The Jr. Thunder are expecting as many as 17 players to return from last season.

New Signings

Highly sought after power forward Hunter Warner joins the Jr. Thunder and will add size and grit, a much-needed characteristic in the Mid-Western Division. The 6’3” 210-pound native of Utah had 26-points 16 games for Wasatch High School.

“Hunter was highly scouted at the Global Showcase in Las Vegas this year. I spoke with him a few times prior to the event and I was glad I got to see him play,” Weingartner said. “He is a very big body that skates well for his size, we are extremely excited to work with Hunter, he has a ton of potential.”

The Jr. Thunder and Bellingham Blazers worked out a trade that dealt Mikey Power to Wichita for 2019-2020. Power wasn’t utilized to his potential nor was he playing the role he desired. The 20-year-old didn’t see much opportunity offensively in a stacked Utah Outliers roster. He was dealt to the Blazers late last season, and given more offensive liberty that garnered an increase in production to nearly a point-per-game. This season, Rob Weingartner assured Power will be a pivotal part of the offense.

We plan to use Mikey as one of our top forwards and will rely on his year of experience to gain confidence and prove he can continue to put up solid numbers,” Weingartner said.

Goaltending(Photo of Allen by Mark Mauno, WSHL)

Weingartner and Coach Summers will want the team to play strong in front of their goaltenders. Wichita has re-signed two goalies from last year in Robert Allen and Jeremy Haffner.

The tandem had outbursts of brilliance through out the season but ultimately were overwhelmed by an abnormally high volume of shots.

Sometimes facing over 70 shots in a game, Allen’s highlight was versus the Northern Colorado Eagles on Feb. 22. He secured the win for Wichita with a .949 SV% stopping 56 of 59 shots. Such performances peeked the interest of Wichita’s coaching staff and convinced them to push for a return.

Haffner only got the nod to start in two games. It was versus the El Paso Rhinos where he faced over a hundred shots in two games. The Rhinos won the games by a significant margin but the volume of shots and ability to make 90 saves on the eventual champion turned his organization’s eyes.

Allen and Haffner will get the chance to compete for ice time and have the chance to truly show their abilities. The two will get the chance to grow and develop through out the course of an entire season in the WSHL.

Visit https://www.wichitajuniorthunder.com/ for the latest Jr. Thunder news.