Thunder co-owner Rodney Steven said the move to dismiss assistant coach Jason Duda was made with only hockey in mind. Duda said his job performance never was part of his discussions with management.
Duda was let go on Friday after five seasons as a Thunder assistant that followed14 years as a player in Wichita, when he set franchise records in goals, assists, points, games and several other categories.
The Thunder, Duda said, wanted Duda to increase his role in the front office by selling more advertising and working more hours. Duda said he countered with an offer to scale back his corporate role and take a cut in pay, but the sides didn’t agree.
So in a meeting with general manager Joel Lomurno, Duda parted from the team with which he had spent nearly two decades.
The Thunder opens training camp on Monday and begins the season Oct. 16 at Tulsa.
“They wanted me to work in the office full-time and be a salesman like I have, and that was something I didn’t want to do,” said the 40-year-old Duda. “I’d see my (two) kids Monday and Thursday nights for seven months, and that’s something that’s not up my alley right now.”
Duda said he had been asking for clarification on his role since early summer, but he couldn’t accept the team’s offers on how to split his time and the team didn’t agree to his preferences.
Thunder coach Kevin McClelland declined to comment, but Steven said McClelland wasn’t consulted about the decision and didn’t endorse the move.
McClelland, who is beginning his sixth season in Wichita, is in the final year of his contract. The Thunder has missed the playoffs the last two years – once in the Central Hockey League and last season in the ECHL – after two straight CHL Finals appearances.
“We’ve got to win this year,” said Steven, who owns team with his brothers, Brandon and Johnny. “I feel like I have the best guy in the seat (McClelland) to do that, and it’s all on him right now, this year. We’re going to provide the very most support, like we’ve always done. We want this team to win. This is a very important season for us.”
Duda was in charge of the Thunder’s power play, which ranked 12th in efficiency among 28 teams in the ECHL last year.
Steven never mentioned anything specific about Duda’s performance as a reason for the dismissal, and said the power play wasn’t a primary deciding factor. Duda said he hasn’t talked with Steven since last season and that his departure was based on off-ice factors.
“There was nothing to do with the hockey part of it that came up in the conversations that I had,” Duda said. “It was all about the office and working in that situation – that’s the way it was presented to me. They made me an offer to stay on as a coach, but for the time and money I would be getting, it didn’t seem like it would work out.”
Steven said Duda’s dismissal doesn’t necessarily indicate added pressure on McClelland.
Steven and Duda also didn’t mention a specific replacement, though Steven suggested a player would likely fill Duda’s role. Ian Lowe and RG Flath, last season’s captain and alternate captain, are possibilities.
“This was a hockey decision,” Steven said.
“…The time was now if we were going to do it. If we get into the season, then we’d have to wait until next year. Jason Duda’s a great guy and he’s been part of this organization for a long time. The bottom line is, we lost two years in a row. Who knows what we could have done better, but this is a change we’re making this year because we need to make a change.”