Another installment of the semi-regular Sitdown with Steve, a Q and A with Steve Schuster, the voice of the Thunder.
KL: The recent Academy Awards got me thinking. If Hollywood made a movie about the Thunder, I see my role as the beat reporter being played by a leading man, someone like George Clooney or Russell Crowe. I see you being played by someone really short, like Rick Moranis. Thoughts?
Schuster: I’m taller than Moranis, and much more handsome.
KL: We haven’t done a Q and A since the Tracy Egeland vs. the hecklers controversy. What are your thoughts on what happened?
Schuster: It’s hard to comment because I don’t know what was or was not said. I will say that I highly doubt that the security guards would allow any kind of profanity-laden tirades from the fans. That’s why the hecklers have lasted for so long. If it’s just a matter of the opposing team overreacting because they aren’t clever enough to respond in a clean manner, then the opposing team (whoever it is that night) should just shut up and concentrate on the game. What if the game (in which the incident happened) was a one-goal game, and something pivotal happened during the two minutes of game clock that Egeland had his back turned to the ice? How would you explain that to your GM? It’s just as simple to ignore what’s going on, but I think that goes to show how effective the hecklers really are.
KL: The Thunder won three of four last week. You saw all the road games. Real improvement or just wins over bad to mediocre teams?
Schuster: Anytime you win two road games in a tough building (and Rapid City is as tough as any building in the league outside of Colorado) you have done a good job. Plus, in all three wins the Thunder overcame deficits, so while playoffs are out of the question, you have to give credit to the team for not folding tent and playing hard to the end.
KL: Lots of new faces in town. Who has impressed you the most?
Schuster: John Daigneau has been very good, and I’m interested in seeing him the rest of the year. He looks very agile for a big guy (he’s 6-4), which combined with the fact that he fills up a lot of the net, makes him a very strong tender. He’s battled three different concussions in his life (some which were unrelated to hockey), so he’s a guy you want to root for.
KL: How surprised were you by coach Bilodeau’s tirade the other night? I think it would have been more effective had he tossed some sticks or a water jug on the ice.
Schuster: First, I want to say that I think some fans have been unfair in suggesting that he does not show enough emotion. He has been stern with the team many times this year, just not necessarily out in the open. Today’s athletes are different than they were even 15 years ago. There is nothing wrong with the change, but the fact is that coaching/managerial styles that worked in the past just aren’t as effective anymore. I think Coach Bilodeau has a good demeanor for today’s athlete. You have to remember that it’s a 64-game season, not 64 one-game seasons. This team is still playing hard (as evidenced by three come from behind wins last week), even though it is not headed to the playoffs. A lot of that has to do with Coach’s even-keeled temper. In answer to your question, I was a little surprised, but I am glad that he did what he felt he needed to do to stick up for his team. He had every right to be upset at the call that the referee in question made.
KL: You made the comment to me the other night that Wichita is sort of a poor man’s Bossier-Shreveport. Illuminate further.
Schuster: Wichita works hard, especially defensively. Obviously the team is short on goal scoring, there’s no getting around that. But if you look at the scores of each individual game, the Thunder has been in virtually every contest. There have been maybe a handful of blowouts, but for the most part, the Thunder has had a chance to win each night. Bossier is similar in that they put defense first, and force you to really work for scoring chances. They just have more firepower than Wichita right now.
KL: The Thunder needs two wins to avoid the stigma of “worst team in the history of the team.” How important is it that the team gets those wins? Obviously, it’s setting the bar low to have that as a goal, but no team wants to be saddled with the tag “worst ever.”
Schuster: It’s hard to say because there are very few players left over from last season’s team. I agree that you want to avoid that stigma, but I don’t think it’s on the mind of the players, because in order to be effective you have to focus on the current game. I know that’s the biggest cliche in sports, but it’s something you find to be true when you’re around the team for the whole season. This goes for any sport at any level. The amount of mental preparation needed to win one game is so great that if you are thinking ahead or thinking behind, you can’t possibly give 100% for that current night.
KL: Joel Hanson is on fire. What do you like about his game?
Schuster: Very smooth, and he will undoubtedly get a chance to return to the ECHL next year. He was a great find by Coach Bilodeau, and if things don’t work out at a higher level, I would love to see him back next year.
KL: As a broadcaster, what is the toughest thing about calling games for a team that has had such a difficult season?
Schuster: Well, each game is fresh. And since you have the chance to win any game on any given night, there’s always the chance that you will see something exciting (a great goal, a long fight, an overtime win, etc.), and with the pace of hockey being what it is, the games kind of take care of themselves. Because Wichita has been in just about every game this season, it really hasn’t been that bad. Last year was tougher because there were far more blowouts, and in cases like that you just have to work harder to be accurate and fair, but not go out of your way and fish for negatives. I think it’s helped me in the long run to become better at what I do.