With coach Kevin McClelland in charge, expect the Wichita Thunder roster to take shape much more quickly — and be filled with quicker players, too — than in recent seasons.
After he was introduced as the ninth coach in the 18-year history of the franchise at a news conference on Monday afternoon, McClelland shared his need for speed.
For example, the former Central Hockey League coach of the year and Stanley Cup champion said he hopes to have at least 12 players signed by mid-June — a blistering rate of acquisition compared to the past few years.
In fact, McClelland shared a list of possible players with general manager Joel Lomurno at a downtown restaurant following the press conference.
"It's simple stuff — Kevin feels you go hard after the players you really want and get them locked up early, and then the rest of the team fills itself in," Lomurno said.
McClelland said he has made recruiting pitches and taken calls from numerous players, including six veterans. No one is signed yet, but McClelland said "we got a few guys on the hook."
"But we have to be diligent and make sure we get the right guys," McClelland said. "They've gotta be good-character guys and be good in the community; those things are important.
"They've got to be willing to play hard every night and not be here for the wrong reasons."
And many need to be fast on the ice.
McClelland said that, because of the way games are called, team speed is more important than ever in the CHL.
"It definitely is because you can't touch anyone because of all the obstruction calls," he said. "Everyone is just clogging things up through the neutral zone, so you gotta use that speed to the outside. You want guys that can skate."
Lomurno declined to give many specifics about McClelland's contract, but he said that McClelland will be the team's coach for at least two years. Lomurno expects McClelland to guide the Thunder, which has had five coaches since the 2002-03 season, for some time.
"I want to be out of the coach-hiring business, and Kevin is tired of moving from place to place," Lomurno said. "The way the contract is set up is that Kevin has the opportunity to be here pretty much as long as he wants."
McClelland, who has guided teams to the CHL playoffs for four straight seasons, said he can envision himself in Wichita long term. He and wife Wendy have three sons: a 13-year-old and 12-year-old twins.
"I'm not looking to go to the next level; I've been there, done that," he said. "I'm just looking to find some place to enjoy my life with my wife and kids and be a part of a great organization."
Duda named assistant — Jason Duda's decorated 14-year Thunder is over, but he will stay with the team as assistant coach. Duda retires as the franchise's career leader in games played (730), points (870), goals (337) and assists (533).
"I got to play for 14 years, which a lot of people don't, and I was very excited about that," said Duda, who missed most of last season with a back injury. "It's just time."