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Disappointing end to tough season for Wildcatters

Friday, 05.02.2008 / 10:00 AM / ECHL Report

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor


With the franchise relocating to California, Texas' Malcolm Cameron has coached his
last game for the Wildcatters, who were bounced from the ECHL playoffs last week by Columbia.
For coach Malcolm Cameron and the Texas Wildcatters, this wasn’t how it was supposed to end.

A season that began with so much promise, a season that started with championship aspirations and hope that the politicians in the city of Beaumont would come to the realization that their home is indeed a viable hockey market, came to a crashing halt when the 115-point Wildcatters lost in the second round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs to the Columbia Inferno.

Hit hard by injuries – Texas played without its top three centers in Round 2 – and call-ups to the American Hockey League, the Wildcatters saw their season end prematurely when they lost the decisive Game 5 to the Inferno, 4-1, at what is now a vacated Ford Arena.

After the loss in Game 5, the Wildcatters saw their season and their existence in Texas come to a close. The team is moving to Ontario, Calif. (where it will be renamed the Reign), after Jefferson County officials opted to terminate the Wildcatters’ lease. The franchise tried to negotiate to keep the team in Beaumont, but instead Ford Arena has lost its primary tenant.

“It was a tough season,” an extremely-candid Cameron told NHL.com this week. “There’s a lot of things that went on here that we didn’t let affect the players. For me personally, it was a real hard season. It wore me down a little bit with all the distractions that go on with the uncertainty of a franchise. But I’m proud of the fact that me and my staff kept a lot of things under wraps.”

Cameron also is proud of the fact that he was able to turn the Wildcatters’ fortunes around when he arrived in 2006. After two losing seasons and a third that was wiped out due to the effects of Hurricane Rita, Cameron guided the Wildcatters to a 41-22-9 record in 2006-07 before this remarkable campaign, which saw Texas go 52-9-11.

During Cameron’s run, the franchise also landed an affiliation with the Minnesota Wild. Several of his players – including rookie sensation Anton Khudobin (20-1-4, 1.98 GAA) saw time in the American Hockey League this season.

Nonetheless, the Wildcatters are no more.

“I don’t know if things were just so messed up after the first two seasons here,” Cameron said. “There was a poor product on the ice. That turned a lot of people off. That’s the one thing I heard when I first got here. It was just a hockey wasteland. When I took over, I was scared of having to try and recruit here. Nobody wanted to come to Beaumont. It’s a great town and I like it here. But compared to Las Vegas or Charlotte or Fort Myers … it’s not one of those glitz or glamour markets of the ECHL. We changed the hockey culture here and changed the perception that we could win and that we could promote players to the AHL. We did it. We were right up there.”

The Texas Wildcatters will become the Ontario Reign beginning next season.
In their season-ending loss to the Inferno last Friday at Ford Arena, the announced attendance was 942. That simply begs the question, is there really enough support in Beaumont to have – and keep – a hockey team?

“I don’t know … I was convinced at the end of last season that the answer was yes,” Cameron said. “I was utterly disappointed with the playoff turnout. People knew this was it. You can’t promote the playoffs because you don’t know what the schedule is, you don’t know who you’re playing. But people can’t use the excuse that they didn’t know that we were playing. We had unbelievable media coverage here in Beaumont. It was the best minor-league coverage that I’ve ever been a part of. We were on the news three, four times a week.”

Now that it’s truly over for Texas, Cameron enters the unknown. He’s still in process of thanking some of his players before they leave town for good. After that, he’ll relax with his wife, Heather, and their two children before sending out his impressive resume.

Cameron coached the American Conference All-Star team this season and never has had a losing campaign in his five years at the ECHL with Long Beach and Texas.

"For me personally, it was a real hard season." -- Texas Wildcatters coach Malcolm Cameron
Could Cameron wind up in Ontario next season coaching the Reign? Possibly, but the 38-year-old is eager to take the next step like so many other coaches in the ECHL have. He’s ready to tackle the AHL – and he won’t demand the No. 1 job, either.

“My priority is obviously to get my name out there in the American Hockey League, whether it’s head coach or assistant coach,” Cameron said. “I’d be quite honored and happy to be an assistant coach there and learn the league. That’s my priority right now.”

Judging by what he’s accomplished at the Double-A level, most teams should be happy to have him.

Around the ECHL – The Las Vegas Wranglers took a 3-1 series lead on the Alaska Aces in the National Conference Semifinals when F.P. Guenette scored 8:17 into overtime Thursday night. The Aces – who eliminated the defending champion Idaho Steelheads in the opening round – will have their season on the line when they meet Las Vegas in Game 5 tonight. … In the other West semifinal, Ryan Kinasewich’s hat trick paced the Utah Grizzlies to a 7-5 win over the Victoria Salmon Kings on Thursday. The Grizzlies now have a 2-1 lead in that best-of-seven series. Games 4 and 5 will take place in Salt Lake City Saturday and Sunday. … The Reading Royals earned a 1-0 victory over the Cincinnati Cyclones in Game 5 of the North Division Final on Wednesday night and can eliminate Cincinnati – which, just like Texas, had 115 points during the regular season – with a victory at the Sovereign Center in Game 6 Saturday night. … The South Carolina Stingrays are one win away from the American Conference Final following Tuesday night’s 5-2 victory over Columbia. The third game of the best-of-five series is slated for Friday in Columbia.

Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.

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