Wichita Thunder

Thunder zeroes in on coach

Wichita Thunder general manager Joel Lomurno is moving aggressively to fill the team's coaching vacancy with Kevin McClelland, a four-time Stanley Cup champion as a player and a former Central Hockey League coach of the year.

McClelland will visit Wichita this weekend for an interview and a contract offer could follow, Lomurno said.

After a surprisingly early exit in the playoffs, the Colorado Eagles announced on Monday that McClelland would not return as coach. Lomurno spoke to McClelland by phone later that night and again Tuesday.

"I would say the tone of our talks have been very positive," Lomurno said. "We're planning on bringing him here this weekend and seeing if we can hash out an agreement."

McClelland could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

On Monday, he expressed interest in the Thunder opening, adding that he would welcome the "challenge" of turning around the struggling franchise.

Based on McClelland's resume, he would be an excellent hire for the Thunder, which hasn't had a winning record since 2005-06.

An intense and physical winger on the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty of the 1980s, he has coached teams to the CHL playoffs for four straight seasons. After revitalizing the Memphis franchise, he was named CHL coach of the year in 2006-07.

The past two seasons, he led Colorado to an 87-30-11 regular-season record. But the Eagles were swept in the conference semifinals this year, prompting former coach Chris Stewart to return to the bench.

"We both agreed that it was time to move on," Stewart said. "It's part of the business, and it's part of being a head coach."

Meanwhile, Thunder star Jason Duda said on Tuesday that he hopes to play next season — a decision that would seemingly remove him as a candidate for the Thunder's coaching job.

Sidelined with an injured back, Duda took over as interim coach when Brent Bilodeau was fired. Duda, the franchise leader in career points, had back surgery later in the season.

He said he feels "great" and will decide by the end of the month whether he will attempt a comeback.

"It's kind of a wait-and-see thing for me right now," he said. "The situation (as interim coach) was interesting, and I enjoyed it, but I don't know if I'm really done playing yet; playing has always been my first priority.

"If Joel can find somebody with experience like a Kevin McClelland, I can't see how he wouldn't want to sign somebody like that."