Evansville Thunder ready for historic run to nationals


EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – Evansville Thunder head coach Brian Vaal knows how turbulent the last four decades have been for his program.

Vaal admitted the Thunder have experienced plenty of inconsistent seasons since their inception in the 1980s, but it’s all the more sweeter now that his high school hockey team has finally arrived.

“I came back coaching this team four years ago, when this team was in the cellar in the state, had disciplinary issues with the state,” Vaal said. “Taking it from where it was, to being a 3A-finalist two years ago, to being a dominant team in 3A the next year, and also being the No. 1 seed in the 3A state tournament the next year. That’s why I feel privileged to be coaching these boys and taking a program that was in the bottom all the way to the top.”

It’s tough to get much higher than the USA Hockey Nationals, and that’s where the Thunder will be headed on Thursday, April 15. The team will head to Omaha, Nebraska for three games of pool play this week, marking the first time the team has ever been selected for the national tournament.

Evansville will also be the only team in the state of Indiana represented at the tournament. That distinction is a point of pride for members of the Thunder.

“This organization has never had this opportunity before, and we’ve been working as hard as we can all year,” said senior Tye Gordon. “We know what we’re getting into. We know we’ve never been here. And we know what needs to be done, and we’re going to do it. We’re ready to prove to some people that Evansville knows how to play hockey.

The Thunder will play at least three games from Thursday through Saturday.

(This story was originally published on April 11, 2021)

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