Malcolm Cameron has been so effective at recruiting hockey players this season that essentially two teams have trusted him to do it for them.
Cameron built what he believed was a playoff team for his first year as coach of the Thunder. Binghamton, the Triple-A affiliate of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, felt the same way and grabbed several players from the Thunder throughout the season.
That left the Thunder, Ottawa’s second-level affiliate, with a depleted roster. But it didn’t sour Cameron on having an affiliate or on renewing the relationship with the Senators. An extension of the one-year agreement hasn’t been made official, but Cameron said he has received no indication that Ottawa wishes to sever ties.
The Thunder (20-43-6-1) plays host to Allen on Sunday in its final home game of the season. Wichita missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season and its first with an NHL affiliate.
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“They do care,” Cameron said of the Senators. “That’s the one thing, I don’t want our fans to think that they don’t care about what goes on in Wichita, because they do. At the end of the day, it’s kind of a perfect storm for them of injuries right off of training camp that has a double trickle-down effect.”
If the Wichita and Ottawa renew, the Thunder will have an eye on what happens with the Senators, where one transaction can affect all levels of the organization. Ottawa’s depth suffered because of injuries and the unavailability of goaltender Craig Anderson, who left the team when his wife became ill.
In about the first month of the season, Binghamton grabbed Chris Rumble, Jack Rodewald and Alex Krushelnyski. The stream of players remained consistent, and Binghamton even called up players, such as Zach O’Brien and Jamie Doorbosch, whom Cameron acquired to replace the ones who had already been promoted.
Those transactions typically involve a player being sent down, but since Binghamton needed to fill its own roster, there were never extra players to return to Wichita. Some of the promoted players were on AHL or NHL contracts, but many were presumed to be in Wichita all season.
“It’s been a weird year, one like I’ve never seen before,” Cameron said. “I was doing the math today and we’re close to 300 games of call-ups, and that doesn’t include injuries. You factor in the 20 one-goal losses we’ve had this year and you look at the firepower that’s out of the lineup, it’s easy to imagine a different result.”
The affiliation agreement was struck with the promise of a consistent presence from the Senators, which hasn’t materialized. Ottawa sent a strength and conditioning coach for a weekend, but otherwise the NHL team has had no representation.
There have been advantages to the relationship, though. Cameron will use the frequent call-ups as a recruiting tool next season, and Ottawa has given the Thunder spots in the team’s development camp, NHL rookie camp and AHL training camp.
Ottawa is switching its AHL affiliate to Belleville, Ontario next year. That transition has taken the Senators’ attention away from the Thunder, an obstacle that will be cleared by next season.
“I do know in my conversations with Senators management and Binghamton’s management, there will certainly be more (organizational) depth next year,” Cameron said.
“I literally talk to the coaches in Binghamton every day, so the communication has been great. “I talk to the Senators’ management that I deal with on a weekly basis, if not bi-weekly.”
The relationship hasn’t often been face-to-face, but Ottawa and Binghamton haven’t affected the Thunder’s roster without frequent communication about why it’s happening. Some of the communication is sparked by Cameron.
“If he’s got a guy that he thinks deserves a call-up, he pushes for that guy,” Ottawa assistant general manager Randy Lee said on a recent Thunder internet broadcast. “You have to trust him. He has to earn your trust, and he’s done that with us.”
Cameron, who has coached with three previous NHL affiliations, hasn’t experienced a year like this one with Ottawa, full of player call-ups without much payback. His experience also tells him that no two years are alike.
“What I want our fans to know is that this wasn’t planned,” Cameron said. “… If you have six guys on AHL contracts on your team, one will go up and maybe they’ll send someone else down to send a message or to get more ice time. If you lose two, typically you’ll get one back.
“I’ve never been in a position where they took so many and we got none back.”
Allen at Thunder
- When: 4:05 p.m. Sunday
- Where: Intrust Bank Arena
- Records: Allen 48-17-4-2, Thunder 20-43-6-1
- Broadcast: wichitathunder.com