Eagles coach will follow lead
July 25, 2008
Two President’s Cup championships. Five Northwest Division titles. A sellout streak that’s second to none in the Central Hockey League and a level of expectations that have come with that success.
All of those components have made up the Colorado Eagles since the franchise began play in the 2003-04 season. Kevin McClelland hasn’t been scared off by any of them.
“My whole career, every since I turned pro, has always been about pressure,” said McClelland, who was announced Tuesday as the Eagles coach. “You love the pressure and you never want to back away from the pressure. (Eagles CEO) Martin Lind said to me the other day how high the bar has been set here, but I’m not afraid of those challenges.”
McClelland faces the daunting task of maintaining the performance level the Eagles have reached during their five seasons in the CHL. He replaces general manager and team president Chris Stewart, who resigned as coach after winning two President’s Cups while posting a 213-77-26 record with the team.
That record stands as the best regular-season mark in the league in that time span. Maintaining the height of that bar, however, shouldn’t be a problem.
At least, that’s what people in the organization think.
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“We know his style, and the teams that he had in Memphis resembled our style of play a lot,” said veteran center Riley Nelson, who will enter his fifth season with the Eagles in October. “They play an offensive game but they also play tough, which is a lot like the way he played.
“It’s a lot like what we have here. It’s almost like we don’t miss a beat.”
McClelland spent three seasons coaching the Mississippi RiverKings and was 100-77-15 with the team. His best season came in 2006-07 when his team ” then named the Memphis RiverKings ” finished 39-19-6 and advanced to the Northern Conference finals. The RiverKings lost the series in six games to Colorado, but McClelland was named the coach of the year after the season.
In April, Mississippi re-signed McClelland to a new three-year contract that would have kept him with the team until the end of the 2010-11 season. McClelland resigned on June 11, though, right before the league’s offseason meetings.
“I have nothing but good things to say about the RiverKings organization,” the coach said. “But this was just a situation where things just didn’t work out.”
With McClelland moving to the Eagles bench, Stewart moves into a spot where he can focus more on the business aspect of running the organization. It’s gone well even with Stewart on the bench, as Colorado has sold out 194 consecutive games at the Budweiser Events Center.
“This is status quo, only better,” Lind said. “Coach Stewart was on the road for hundreds of nights, and now he’s here full time. This gives us more of an opportunity to expand.”
As far as McClelland is concerned, he hoping to see it in the long term.
“I’m not looking to go back to the American Hockey League or back to the NHL,”
McClelland said. “Yes, a couple of opportunities have come across the board. But the CHL is a good league, and I just want to be there for the players.”