|Head coach Malcolm Cameron has the Texas Wildcatters in the midst of a streak where they have not lost a game in regulation in their last 21 contests.
Not only have Cameron’s Wildcatters gone 21 games without a regulation loss (17-0-4), but the hockey gods even permitted Cameron to make it home from Mississippi just a few hours before his wife gave birth to the couple’s son, Logan Alexander, on Dec. 30.
“It was awesome,” Cameron told NHL.com this week. “She was due (Jan.) 4th, and we had it all planned for Jan. 2. She decided to go a little bit early. She gutted it out. She should have probably went before we even got on the bus, but she wanted me to go coach those games. She knows that’s really important to me, being with the guys. She just held on as long as she could so I could get back.”
It’s just been the way things have gone for Cameron this season. If he walked into the nearest convenience store and bought a lottery ticket, he probably would wake up the next morning to the realization that he’d never have to work again.
Thirty-three games into the season, Cameron’s team boasts the best record in the ECHL at 26-2-5. Despite this unbelievable run, the Wildcatters only have a 12-point lead in the South Division over the second-place Gwinnett Gladiators.
“It’s competitive, there’s no question,” Cameron said of the South. “All the teams down here are good and they can beat anybody on any given night. Mississippi came in for three games and ended up giving us all we could handle. They ended up stealing a game from us in overtime. It’s competitive. Plus, when you’re playing well like we are, you’re getting everybody’s best every night. Everybody’s up to the challenge. Our guys have responded accordingly. It brings out the best in our team.”
So, what is it that makes the Wildcatters so successful? Sure, they have goal scorers like John McNabb (45 points in 33 games) and possess a quality No. 1 netminder in Anton Khudobin (13-0-3, 2.02 GAA). But Cameron points to the team’s chemistry as the biggest reason for its incredible first half.
“We have a remarkable group of kids here,” Cameron said. “They’re unbelievably committed. I’ve had some great teams, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve never been around a group of kids like this in my life that just continue to find ways to win and play hard for each other.”
Cameron has also drilled into his players’ heads that the only way they’ll ever get a chance to play at the next level is if they give 110 percent on every shift in the ECHL. Five players on the roster have scored at least 10 goals, while only one player has a minus rating (RW Matt Kassian is a minus-1).
“Our guys just play hard,” Cameron said. “They want to win, and they know that good things come from winning – whether it’s a promotion to the American Hockey League or individual recognition. But this is a team. It’s really good group of guys.”
While some might fear that the Wildcatters may lose their edge prior to the start of the postseason, Cameron is confident that will not be the case. He also sounded pretty confident that his team will hit at least a minor bump in the road before the regular season concludes.
“At the end of the day, there has to be a progression,” Cameron said. “You have to develop winning instincts and a killer instinct in your team. It’s not something you turn on and turn off. We try to find a different way to motivate them every game. It is hard to get up for every game in a 72-(game schedule). But guys are fighting for positions in the lineup, and they know eventually we’ll get healthy. Everybody wants to be a part of it, and that’s what motivates are guys every day.”
“Everybody goes through the peaks and the valleys, and we’re no different,” he added. “There’s some games that we struggled in, but we found ways to win. It’s obviously a pretty magical season that we’re having right now. But it’s only January. There’s going to be continued injuries and continued call-ups, and we’re just going to have to persevere through it. But we’re enjoying the ride.”
For Cameron, it’s a ride that will include a second-straight stop at the ECHL All-Star Game. Come Jan. 23 in Stockton, Calif., Cameron – along with Las Vegas Wranglers coach Glen Gulutzan – will be behind the National Conference’s bench. But Cameron’s not about to pat himself on the back.
“I thank the players, because it was a team effort,” Cameron said. “If they didn’t do so well out there on the ice and believe in my message and the systems, we wouldn’t be doing as well as we are, and I wouldn’t have a chance to coach in the All-Star Game again. It’s really a team award and it was real nice of them to play so hard to get me there. Maybe it was because they didn’t want to see me in practice that week.”
It’s certainly something Cameron can include on his resume should he look for an AHL coaching job this summer, but the Wildcatters’ head man insists it’s not something he’s currently pondering.
“Maybe I’m a little naïve, thinking what this could do for my career,” said Cameron, who enters Friday’s game against the South Carolina Stingrays with a lifetime ECHL coaching record of 182-100-39. “I’ve never been that way. I didn’t get into coaching hockey necessarily to enhance my stature in the hockey community. I couldn’t play anymore, and this is the closest I could get to playing. I’m a real competitive guy. I like to have a good team every year and I like to win hockey games. I like to push guys up to the American League.”
Still, somebody must ask you about moving up to the AHL, right?
“My wife does,” Cameron joked. “She brings it up on occasion. (Wildcatters owner) Rick Adams brings it up to me all the time. He says I’ve been deserving of a shot for long time here. But I’m not in any rush. My goal is to one day be a part of the National Hockey League. It may or may not happen. I can’t control those things. I’m trying to enjoy my job here in Texas, and it’s an awful fun one right now.”
Brian Compton can be e-mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.