300 and counting
A coach’s 300th win, especially when it appears there are many more wins to come, is probably not the best time for reflection.
At least not for Thunder coach Kevin McClelland, who reached that milestone in the Central Hockey League in Wichita’s shootout victory over Missouri on Sunday. All of McClelland’s 371 total victories have come in hockey’s minor leagues and seven of his nine seasons have been spent in the CHL, a comfortable home for the 50-year-old McClelland.
McClelland’s spot in hockey history is secure — he helped the Edmonton Oilers win four Stanley Cup championships during the 1980s as the enforcer charged with protecting Wayne Gretzky. He wants his players to find their own place with his help, but not with his credit.
"All 300 wins, you have to put all the (players’) names beside me because they’re the ones that get the wins," McClelland said. "I know my name counts for it, but there’s a lot of people that are involved in that, including my assistant coach but mainly the players. They’re the ones that go out and do it all."
Of course, McClelland is most responsible for finding the players and building the rosters that have gotten him to 300 wins, as recruiting is one of the most important aspects to coaching minor-league hockey.
McClelland got the most out of his abilities, playing for his era’s most successful franchise as part of a 16-year pro career than included 14 NHL seasons. He looks for players who he can mold similarly, who are just as interested as he is in reaching their peak performance.
"That’s exactly what it is," McClelland said. "I had a lot of help along the way and I got to play for some real good coaches, especially Glen Sather there in Edmonton. That’s what I try and be like, the way he was for the guys. You want these guys to realize that it’s not going to last forever and to get the most out of it. Make the most money they can and make the most memories by winning championships."
The CHL seems like the perfect spot for McClelland, and not just because the bus trips allow him to avoid severe anxiety over flying. McClelland is not only a student of the game, but he’s passionate about it, and players at this level are playing not only with the hope of advancing their careers but for their love of the sport.
The 300 wins, which don’t include the postseason, place McClelland to 7th on the CHL career list. His overall record in the league is 300-152-35. He had 71 wins in two seasons in the Western Hockey League.
"I thoroughly enjoy it," McClleland said. "I enjoy looking at these guys here who probably didn’t get the opportunity they should have to make it to the next level. Every day they come to the rink and they still love the game and they’re not making the big bucks by no means. It’s a bunch of fun to coach a bunch of guys like that."
• The league announced Saturday that a new franchise in Brampton, Ontario, will begin play for the 2013-14 season. It is the CHL’s first franchise in Canada. The CHL expects to hae 12 teams in the league next season, with Brampton joining St. Charles (Mo.) as expansion teams.
• Three teams, including Wichita, have secured playoff spots so far. First-place Allen joins Fort Worth and the Thunder as teams guaranteed the postseason. Rapid City can become the fourth with a win or an overtime loss, or a loss by ninth-place Bloomington. Every team has between five and eight games remaining.
Erick Lizon was released by Oklahoma City of the AHL and will rejoin the Thunder for this weekend’s games at Arizona. Lizon, an enforcer, played 17 games with OKC; he didn’t register a point but accumulated 30 penalty minutes. To make room on the roster, Wichita placed defenseman Jarred Mohr on season-ending injured reserve.
Before winning in a shootout at Missouri on Sunday, the Thunder had lost its previous seven road games, though four were in overtime or a shootout. Wichita is still tied for third in the CHL with 15 road victories.
Tap of the stick
Neil Trimm was held scoreless Sunday, but in the five previous games he totaled 14 points, giving him 70 for the season. That leads every Thunder player by at least 10 and has vaulted him to seventh in the league. Trimm scored 14 points in a season-best eight-game scoring streak between Oct. 20 and Nov. 9.
Television character Dora the Explorer (or at least a mascot representing the animated character) will appear at the Thunder’s next home game, March 22 against Allen.
Despite injuries to various players, Wichita has mostly been the standard for durability. Eight players have appeared in all 60 games this season.
He said it
"He wouldn’t fight me. He’s doing commentary now. He wouldn’t be able to do commentary with his jaw wired shut."
— McClelland’s in-jest answer when asked if he ever fought ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose while they played in the NHL