Thunder and Mavericks Open Playoffs Tonight
WICHITA, KS- The Wichita Thunder and Missouri Mavericks will have the stage to themselves tonight when the teams kickoff the 2011 Central Hockey League playoffs at the INTRUST Bank Arena.
Game One of the Opening Round begins at 7:05 p.m. The best-of-five series shifts to Independence, MO for Games Two and Three on Friday and Saturday respectively. The Thunder would host a potential Game Four on Tuesday, April 5th, while the Mavericks hold the rights to a winner-take-all Game Five the following night. The remaining game times are all scheduled for 7:05 p.m.
Separated by just 207 miles, the series pits one of the CHL's original members against one of its newest. The Thunder, now in their 19th season, are in the playoffs for the 11th time in franchise history, but the first since 2007. Under new Head Coach Kevin McClelland, the Thunder rebounded from 9-50-5 last season to 34-26-6 in 2010-11. McClelland is now one of only four coaches in league history to guide three different teams to the playoffs. A four-time Stanley Cup champion as a player, McClelland is making his fifth straight appearance in the CHL tournament, having taken Mississippi and Colorado twice each.
An expansion team last year, the Mavericks are making their second appearance in the CHL playoffs. Missouri edged Mississippi two games to one in last year's Opening Round before losing to eventual champion Rapid City in the conference semifinals. The Mavericks are coached by Scott Hillman who was a star defenseman for the Odessa Jackalopes from 1999-2007. Hillman won back-to-back SPHL championships as Head Coach of the Knoxville Ice Bears before signing on with the Mavericks prior to last season.
Missouri dominated the head-to-head series last year, winning all 10 matches. The Thunder responded this season with a 7-4-0 mark against the Mavericks that included one overtime win and one shootout win. The Thunder was 4-1-0 versus the Mavericks at the INTRUST Bank Arena, while going 3-3-0 at the Independence Events Center. Rob Nolan's 31-save shutout in a 2-0 Missouri win on December 27th marked the only time this season the Thunder lost in regulation to a Turner Conference opponent at home.
The Thunder ranked third in offense during the regular season at 3.77 goals for per game. Missouri was first in defense, allowing just 2.62 goals against per contest.
Aaron Davis was Wichita's leading scorer versus Missouri, netting six goals with 11 assists and a +8 rating in 11 games. Nick Sirota's 12 points (5 G, 7 A) led the Mavericks.
Each team features a player who took home major hardware last week. Thunder defenseman Andrew Martens earned a spot on the 2011 All-CHL Team, and was later named the league's Most Outstanding Defenseman. Nolan also earned a spot on the All-CHL Team, and was voted Most Outstanding Goaltender. Missouri center Simon Watson won Man of the Year honors.
For tickets to tonight's game, call the INTRUST Bank Arena box office at (316) 755-SEAT or visit the Thunder's official website at www.wichitathunder.com.
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