The Wichita Thunder will not renew the contract of coach Kevin McClelland, the team announced on Saturday.
McClelland’s contract expired following the season, which the Thunder finished 18-41-7-6, the worst record in the 28-team ECHL. After reaching the Central Hockey League finals in 2012 and ’13, the Thunder missed the playoffs three years in a row under McClelland, the last two in the ECHL.
McClelland, 53, finished with a 194-166-48 record in six seasons with the Thunder.
“We made a commitment from the very beginning with this team to win,” said Rodney Steven, who has owned the Thunder with brothers Brandon and Johnny since 2011. “We were probably spoiled the first two years getting to the championship (round). We want to get back to the championships.
“We don’t miss games. We want to be at every game, we want to win while we’re there and the last couple years have been tough.”
McClelland declined to comment Saturday, citing family obligations.
The Thunder finished around .500 the last two seasons before bottoming out in the second ECHL season. As one of three teams without an NHL affiliation, McClelland’s recruiting efforts were somewhat hamstrung because he couldn’t offer players a clear path beyond Double-A hockey.
Steven said that the owners and McClelland mutually decided not to pursue an affiliation for the recently completed season but that the team remains open to one in the future.
The Steven brothers also own ECHL franchises in Tulsa and Allen, Texas, which play in the Central division with the Thunder. Rodney Steven said that even though his emotional ties are to the Thunder, the brothers can oversee effective operation of three teams.
“We’ll all three be successful,” Steven said. “We’re not shy about things. One team is our home team, and it’s Wichita. The team we want to win always is Wichita.”
McClelland constantly tinkered with the roster this season, using 37 players. He began with few assets but dealt one of them, young forward Danick Gauthier, to Rapid City for Kale Kerbashian, who became the Thunder’s best player.
Wichita never won more than three games but won seven of 12 during one late-season stretch before losing is final four.
Steven said he has an idea on the kind of coach he wants to bring into Wichita, but he declined to specify or give a timeline on how soon McClelland’s replacement will be named.
“McClelland was in every gosh-dang game,” Steven said. “More one-goal losses than any team out there. But what am I supposed to do? We had three years of (losing).”