Following a season-opening loss to Tulsa last Saturday, first-year Thunder coach Malcolm Cameron leaned back in his chair and smiled.
Some context: Cameron wasn’t shrugging off a defeat but fondly remembering the times he was able to.
“My very first game in the ’07-08 season, when we set the record with only nine losses all year, we lost our first game in Augusta, Ga.,” Cameron said. “Then we lost eight in the next 71, and we lost six in the next 69. Don’t get hung up on a win or a loss.”
Cameron set that ECHL record with Texas and isn’t shy about recalling the accomplishment. It doesn’t come across, though, as a hockey coach reliving his glory seasons. Instead, Cameron exudes confidence and treats the prospect of guiding a Thunder turnaround as a virtual inevitability. Wichita plays host to Missouri on Friday.
In four previous introductions, Cameron has led his teams to at least 10 more wins than the season before he was hired. He’ll need more than that to lead the Thunder, which won 18 last year under coach Kevin McClelland, to the postseason, but he welcomes the challenge because he’s conquered it before.
Twice, Cameron’s first season has produced at least 20 more wins than the prior year.
“After that first (Texas loss), guys hated losing. After that, we turned it on,” Cameron said. “I was trying to pump (the Thunder) up in the locker room after the game, and you can see the guys felt disappointed because they really wanted to win it for the fans and turn it around.”
One game, especially the first game with a new coach and almost an entirely new roster, is rarely indicative of anything. But if anything was to be taken from Saturday’s loss, it’s that the Thunder is clearly better.
There seem to be too many factors working toward making regression or stagnation impossible. The new affiliation with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators is already reaping benefits, with several players with NHL or Triple-A American Hockey League contracts being assigned to Double-A Wichita before the season.
This week, the Senators assigned defenseman Chris Rumble and Gabriel Gagne, a second-round draft pick by Ottawa last year, to the Thunder. Those moves add two more players with potential to move beyond Wichita, as many others fit the bill. The Thunder has 10 players 23 or younger.
It’s not just potential, either. Many Thunder players appear to have the skill to play in Triple-A or higher, too.
“I think you can see the characteristics of what we’re going to have here – the speed, the skill and the size,” Cameron said. “... A lot of positives.”
Missouri at Thunder
- When: 7:05 p.m. Friday
- Where: Intrust Bank Arena
- Records: 0-2-0-0, Thunder 0-1-0-0
- Broadcast: wichitathunder.com