The Wichita Thunder is on the verge of signing Kevin McClelland as its new coach — a move that could inject instant enthusiasm and credibility into the struggling hockey franchise.
After visiting Wichita over the weekend, McClelland, a former Central Hockey League coach of the year and a four-time Stanley Cup champion as a player, is "real close" to agreeing to terms with the Thunder, general manager Joel Lomurno said on Sunday afternoon.
Lomurno is hopeful that a deal will be finalized by the end of the week.
"I think we both came out of this weekend with a good feeling," Lomurno said. "We are on the same page in regards to a contract."
McClelland and his wife spent parts of Friday and Saturday with Lomurno. McClelland described his visit as "very positive," but he stopped short of saying he was taking the Thunder job.
"We were very impressed with the city and the organization," he said. "Joel was very personable, showing us everything there was to see.
"Obviously, we have to digest a few of these things and see where we're at. We have a lot to ponder over."
The Thunder's previous two coaches, Mark French and Brent Bilodeau, had no experience as professional head coaches. Both struggled to produce wins and were fired.
By contrast, McClelland brings experience, and he is a proven winner.
He has coached four straight CHL teams (Memphis, Mississippi and Colorado twice) to the playoffs and, after turning around Memphis in his second year there, he was named the CHL coach of the year in 2007.
McClelland guided league power Colorado to a 42-15-7 regular season record, but the Eagles were swept in the playoffs by Bossier-Shreveport and his contract was not renewed.
McClelland, a rugged winger on the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty of the 1980s, also has five years experience as an assistant in the American Hockey League; two of those seasons, 2003-04 and 2004-05, McClelland worked under Thunder coaching legend Doug Shedden.
Lomurno said he learned a great deal about McClelland's coaching philosophy during their time together in Wichita.
"It was a real privilege spending time with Kevin and talking hockey," Lomurno said. "He is really on the ball when it comes to knowing what it takes to recruit and win at this level."
While in Wichita, McClelland got a closer look at Intrust Bank Arena, the team's new home. Prior to the tour, led by arena general manager Chris Presson, McClelland had described the venue as a great recruiting tool.
He came away even more impressed.
"I got to see every nook and cranny, stuff coaches don't usually get to see," McClelland said. "It's unbelievable."
Guy Quinn, a season ticket holder since 1995, was among a small group of fans who had lunch with McClelland on Saturday.
"If we get him here, and it sounds like there's a pretty good chance, I think it's the best move the Thunder has made in the past 10 years," Quinn said. "What stood out to me is he wants to get new blood into Wichita and revamp pretty much the entire roster, which is what has been needed for the last several years.
"As a season ticket holder, I've seen a lot of bad hockey. After listening to him, I think he could change that and bring Wichita the kind of hockey it needs."