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Bombers have new pilot for 2007-08 season

by Brian Compton /

Former Dallas Stars' assistant coach Bill McDonald was named head coach of the DaytonBombers.
Just four months after reaching the Kelly Cup Finals, the Dayton Bombers will have a completely different look behind the bench in 2007-08.

It started over the summer with the departure of associate coach Derek Clancey, who opted to take a scouting job with the Pittsburgh Penguins rather than completely take over the coaching reigns in Dayton.

That left owner/GM Don MacAdam in a bit of a pickle. Once Clancey was in the rear-view mirror, MacAdam began an extensive search for a new head coach. It did not conclude until Oct. 3, when MacAdam chose former Dallas Stars assistant coach Bill McDonald to replace him behind the bench.

McDonald, 54, arrives in Dayton with a resume loaded with experience at the minor-league level. The Thunder Bay, Ontario, native has spent 15 years moving around the Central Hockey League, the United Hockey League, the Western Professional Hockey League and the International Hockey League. He last coached in 2005-06, when he guided the CHL’s Austin Ice Bats to a record of 34-27-3.

The new Bombers coach certainly knows what it takes to win. McDonald guided the Colonial Hockey League’s Thunder Bay Thunder Hawks to championships in 1992, 1994 and 1995. He also won a championship with the Central Hockey League’s Fort Worth Fire in 1997.

Despite the fact that the announcement came just 17 days before their first game of the 2007-08 campaign, MacAdam wanted to make sure he got this right. Top that with the time-consuming task of getting immigration work done, and it all added up to the late announcement by the Bombers.

“First of all, we did a very exhaustive search and we wanted to make sure we got the right person,” MacAdam said. “Second of all, we wanted to make sure we had Bill’s immigration done before we announced anything. It’s not that Bill wanted a longer summer vacation. That’s not the case at all.”

Surely, the Bombers didn’t expect to be in this position a couple months back. Clancey was on the verge of taking over the head coaching reigns when the Penguins suddenly offered him a scouting job. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“Derek had agreed to a contract, and we were really looking forward to having him here,” MacAdam said. “He had an opportunity to scout with Pittsburgh, and we understand completely why he chose to take that opportunity. It’s working directly with an NHL team. Typically, that’s the goal of people at our level – on and off the ice. Derek did a tremendous job here last year for us. We certainly wish him great success. His passion is coaching, and hopefully he’ll get back into coaching again. He’s a great coach.”

In the end, the McDonald hiring will give MacAdam the opportunity to work more on the business end. The Bombers are starting to prosper in Dayton -- MacAdam said season-ticket sales and corporate sponsorships have risen 20 percent since the Bombers reached the finals -- so the former assistant coach of the Detroit Red Wings would like to be around the office more and carry a heavier load in that capacity.

“We have a lot to do on the business side here,” MacAdam said. “When (co-owner) Costa (Papista) and I bought the team, it was a glorified two-man operation. We’ve added some great people, but we just felt that a real positive step would be to bring in a real quality coach like Bill McDonald. This allows me to do some more of the general manager things, along with getting to a number of projects that we just haven’t been able to get to.”

While this will be McDonald’s first coaching job in the ECHL, that doesn’t mean he is unfamiliar with the league. His son, Walker McDonald, played for MacAdam when the latter coached the Charlotte Checkers in 2002-03. Walker spent the following season with the Columbia Inferno, and Dad would watch his son play any chance he had.

“I’m pretty familiar with it,” McDonald said. “My boy played in the ECHL for Donny. I’ve watched numerous games in the past couple of years. I’ve watched a little of the ECHL, that’s for sure.”

With that mind, McDonald knows the pressure he is facing in Dayton, where MacAdam and Clancey shocked the ECHL universe by leading the Bombers to the Kelly Cup Finals. Obviously, Bombers’ fans are hoping for similar success this time around.

“I think there is,” McDonald admitted when asked if there will be added pressure. “You’ve got to give Donny and Costa and Derek Clancey a tremendous amount of credit for what they did. To get that far, anybody associated with a hockey team knows how hard it is to get there. When I took the job, I knew that. I don’t mind challenges. I don’t make predictions, but that’s our goal – to get there again and take it one step farther. With that being said, I know how much work I have in front of me. I know how hard it is to win. I have won before at this level. You’ve got to have luck, you’ve got to have things going your way and hope for the best.”

Things certainly went McDonald’s way in the late 1990s. In 1998, he was named head coach of the Michigan K-Wings, who were the Triple-A affiliate of the Dallas Stars. After leading the K-Wings to a playoff berth, McDonald joined Ken Hitchcock behind the Stars’ bench as an assistant coach for the 1999-2000 campaign. Dallas reached the Stanley Cup Final before falling to the New Jersey Devils in six games.

“That was probably the best two years of my coaching career,” McDonald said. “I was in Fort Worth and did pretty well there with the CHL team and the WPHL team. I can still remember the day when we lost in the finals when I was coaching at the Double-A level. The next morning, the phone rang and it was Bob Gainey asking me to come over and help out. From there, it turned into me going to Kalamazoo and coaching there for two years with the likes of Brenden Morrow and Marty Turco and Jon Sim. It was two pretty good years. We did a lot of developing there and the Stars did well. I really thought I knew something until I went there.”

Around the ECHL -- The Elmira Jackals received goaltender Dan LaCosta from AHL Syracuse. LaCosta is still under contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackals also signed forwards Bobby Robins and Martin Sagat. … The Detroit Red Wings reassigned forward Mike Walsh to Dayton. The 24-year-old had 40 points in 66 games for Toledo last season. The Bombers also received goaltender Rejean Beauchemin from the Philadelphia Flyers. … Goaltender Dave McKee and defenseman Eric Lundberg have landed with the Augusta Lynx. … The Gwinnett Gladiators added Bryson Busniuk, Mike Vigilante, Jim Jackson, Jon Awe and Craig Kowalski to their training camp roster. … The Fresno Falcons named Terry Friesen goaltending coach. Friesen was selected in the third round of the 1996 Entry Draft by the San Jose Sharks. … The Mississippi Sea Wolves acquired forwards Brett Pilkington and Ryan Menei from the Texas Wildcatters for future considerations. … The Wheeling Nailers received ECHL All-Star defenseman Paul Bissonnette from the Pittsburgh Penguins. … Rookies Theo Peckham and Geoff Paukovich were assigned to the Stockton Thunder via AHL Springfield. … The Bakersfield Condors signed rookie forward Jared Walker.

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