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Thunder’s drastic drop leaves Kevin McClelland pondering changes

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, April 5, 2014, at 10:43 p.m.

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Kevin McClelland is committed to improving the Thunder, even if Wichita’s hockey coach isn’t committed to any certainty regarding his status beyond the recently completed season.

McClelland, who led the Thunder to appearances in the Central Hockey League finals in 2012 and 2013, has one year remaining on his contract. He doesn’t like not knowing where he’ll be in two seasons, but now may not be the best time to ask owners Brandon, Johnny and Rodney Steven for an extension.

Wichita missed the playoffs, finishing ninth in the 10-team CHL after failing to recover from a dismal start. It doesn’t seem that McClelland wore out his welcome, but this season was a harsh comedown for a franchise that had grown accustomed to winning during his previous three years.

“I haven’t talked to anybody yet, and who knows?” McClelland said regarding the likelihood of a return next year. “I have another year left and I imagine we’ll be moving forward, but I’m not real keen on going into the last year of a deal, that’s for sure.”

McClelland said he would prefer to return but hesitated at the idea of signing an extension.

“We love it here,” McClelland said. “It’s been great for me and my family. We’ve been treated well by the fans and the ownership, and it’s been a great place. But security is No. 1 for my family and me in this business.”

If McClelland stays, he’ll have substantial work to do in overhauling the Thunder’s roster. Wichita gave the core of the two finals teams another shot to win a championship, but many of those players underperformed and the newcomers failed to match the production of those who departed after last year.

No matter what McClelland decides on mainstays such as Andrew Martens, RG Flath and Matt Summers, the core will look different after the retirement of Matt Robinson, Wichita’s leading scorer over the last four years and one of only two Thunder players, along with Flath, to score 20 goals this season.

McClelland will be searching for scoring after high-priced additions Jesse Dudas and Jon Booras were unable to lead a postseason charge.

“We’re going to sit down, management, owners and myself, on Monday and iron a few things out and move on after that,” McClelland said.

Wichita started 2-10 and couldn’t recover, and a 12-17-4 record at Intrust Bank Arena ultimately dashed any playoff hopes. The Thunder endured early injuries to Ian Lowe, Matt Summers and Dudas, and nine players who ended the season on the active roster missed at least five games.

“It’s disappointing (from) where we’d been the last couple seasons,” McClelland said. “It’s a totally different feeling, one that I’m not very happy with. I don’t like that. Where we’ve been the last couple years, and all of a sudden, boom, like that. I know things can happen in the world of sports, but you never want to see your team take that much of a drop.”

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