Wichita Thunder

Thunder ready to begin new era

If the Wichita Thunder faithful weren't already enamored with new coach Kevin McClelland based solely on his impressive resume, they will surely be won over by the description of how he expects his team to play.

The style would seemingly please the diehards, those who remember the glory days under the legendary Doug Shedden, and also the new, casual fan attracted by the team's fancy downtown home, Intrust Bank Arena.

"You want a team that can play any type of game," McClelland said. "If someone wants to get nasty or goofy with us, we'll be equipped to play those games. But games are won or lost on the scoreboard. So we want a team that's really creative offensively — I like guys to ad lib and use their skills — and sound defensively.

"I don't want five guys in the neutral zone playing the trap. That's not good for the fans. I want a hard-hitting, physical, fast hockey team. And if there's a few opportunities for dust-ups along the way, that won't hurt either."

McClelland, a former Central Hockey League coach of the year and a four-time Stanley Cup champion as a player, will be introduced as the team's coach at a news conference today in Intrust Bank Arena.

It's clear that general manager Joel Lomurno, whose last hire, Brent Bilodeau, was fired early last season, can hardly wait for McClelland to begin assembling his team.

"I'm tired of having Thunder games dictated by the other team," Lomurno said. "I want our team dictating the style of play from the opening faceoff, and Kevin's teams will do that. I don't think we could have found a better person to be the next coach of the Wichita Thunder."

The 47-year-old McClelland, who has guided CHL teams to the playoffs for four straight seasons, faces a monumental rebuilding task.

The Thunder were an embarrassing 9-50-5 last season and hasn't had a winning season since 2005-06. As expected, McClelland said the roster will undergo a complete overhaul. Lomurno agreed, saying only three or four players will likely return from last year.

McClelland said he has already been "burning up the phone lines" in an effort to recruit players.

"I've got no ties to those guys (on the team last year)," McClelland said. "We're gonna bring in people who want to be part of the organization and who will work hard to be part of the community. There will be a lot of changes."

Three players — forward Ryan Campbell, defenseman Steve Makway and goalie Ian Keserich — might have somewhat of an inside track to returning to Wichita. All three performed well for McClelland on Mississippi's 2007-08 playoff team.

Given that the Thunder was perhaps the worst team in CHL history last year, McClelland is in an enviable, nowhere-to-go-but-up situation. He stressed, however, that he won't be pleased with an average season — even though that would represent significant improvement for the Thunder.

"I don't want to disappoint," he said. "I like winning. I don't like losing, and I won't settle for mediocrity. I want to come in and be successful right away."