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Thunder vs. Wheeling

The puck drops on a defensive zone faceoff during an Adirondack Thunder game at Cool Insuring Arena this season.

The Adirondack Thunder’s time atop the ECHL’s North Division was short, but it’s hardly a surprise that defense was what led Adirondack there in the first place.

The Thunder took over first place Saturday with a 3-1 win over Manchester, their fourth consecutive win. The Monarchs promptly reclaimed first place Sunday after beating Worcester, but the Thunder have a chance to reclaim the spot Friday when they host Manchester.

And if their defense plays like it did in the pair of wins over the Monarchs last weekend, all will be well. In their last four games, the Thunder have allowed just six goals, and two of those games went to overtime. Somewhat-regular defensemen Mathieu Brodeur, Dylan Olsen, Desmond Bergin, Mike Bergin and Conor Riley have been important players on the ice.

“It’s huge,” Thunder coach Brad Tapper said of the defense’s influence during the winning streak. “Most of them have been up in the AHL for a bit, but when they come back here, they’re ready to be leaders in the (locker) room, leaders on the ice and the other guys follow their lead.”

To the Thunder’s credit, a lot of players — not just defensemen — have had call-ups to the AHL this season, and when they return to Adirondack, they haven’t missed a beat.

“Guys want to play here,” Tapper said. “They don’t get much playing time in the AHL. They’re pretty psyched about playing regular shifts.”

Besides defense, Tapper credited his players with doing a lot of little things that don’t show up in the game summaries for the team’s winning streak.

“The buy-in from all the players has been fantastic,” Tapper said. “You create a system and get guys who believe in it. They want to play for each other, and if you do that, the sky’s the limit.”

Notes: The Thunder made a big trade Thursday, acquiring forward Kenton Miller from Rapid City in exchange for forward Andrew Radjenovic and future considerations.

Miller, 27, is a sixth-year pro who has played in 312 career ECHL games. This season, he led the Rush in goals with 21 and had accumulated 41 points in 57 games. Rapid City is in last place in the Mountain Division. Radjenovic leaves the Thunder with five goals and 10 assists in 31 games.

Entering this weekend’s two home games, the Thunder are averaging 3,020 fans per game. That’s third-best in the division, behind Worcester (4,305) and Reading (3,243).

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Follow Will Springstead on Twitter @WSpringsteadPSV.

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