The Thunder needed a coach who said he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the task of quickly executing a major turnaround and found one who can prove it.
Malcolm Cameron, who was introduced as the Thunder’s coach during a Thursday press conference, has overseen seismic shifts at his previous stops. Four times Cameron’s first season has produced at least 10 wins more than the year before, and twice he has improved by at least 20 wins.
Cameron, 46, has a similar chore with the Thunder, which has missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons and had the worst record in the ECHL this past season. Wichita’s 18-41-7-6 record led to the team’s decision not to renew the coaching contract of Kevin McClelland.
“I’m a very, very, very competitive person,” Cameron said. “So when this opportunity came up, it was one of the few opportunities that I looked at. I really like the challenge that this job presents.”
Cameron has coached seven full ECHL seasons and advanced past the first round of the playoffs in each year. His most recent ECHL position was with Elmira for 52 games in 2010-11, after which the Nova Scotia native began coaching in the Western junior league.
His most dramatic turnaround happened in 2006-07 with the ECHL’s Texas Wildcatters, one year after the franchise took the year off because of Hurricane Rita. The previous year, Texas won 17 games but Cameron led the Wildcatters to 41 wins and two playoff series wins.
The next year, Texas was 52-9, setting the ECHL record for best winning percentage (.799). In 2005, Cameron took Long Beach from 23 wins to 43.
“It becomes a real art, and there’s a science to it to be able to talk to your players and get them to believe they can win despite all the obstacles,” Cameron said. “I enjoy that challenge, and that’s what this league presents. That’s what makes good coaches in this league, because you learn your craft very, very quickly.”
Thunder general manager Joel Lomurno said the Thunder was getting a tireless recruiter, and Cameron’s track record matches that assessment.
Working with affiliated ECHL teams in the past, Cameron has sent players to the Triple-A American Hockey League and to the NHL, and watched players from his juniors team in Regina, Saskatchewan advance to the professional ranks.
Cameron said the key to immediate improvement is finding players whose work ethics match his own.
“I’m going to stay on the phone until I find a team that’s going to win me 40 games,” Cameron said. “The challenge, coming off a 40- or 50-win season, is finding something different to motivate that team.
“…Between Long Beach and Texas, a lot of it was getting good, quality people on the team. Not guys that you were just enamored with the resumes or their stats, but finding out the nitty-gritty.”
Cameron, who has coached his son on an under-17 team in Canada the last two seasons, said he will pursue affiliations with the NHL and the AHL teams. Wichita has been without those for its first two ECHL seasons and was often unable to attract top players.
“That’s going to be high, high on my agenda, starting Monday,” Cameron said. “Obviously there’s no guarantees, but I’ve had very good relationships with the (higher-level) teams I’ve worked with in the past.”