The Edmonton Oilers announced on Tuesday their partnership with the Wichita Thunder, making them their new ECHL affiliate for the 2017-18 season.
The move was made in an effort for the team's minor league affiliates - the American Hockey League's Bakersfield Condors and now, Wichita Thunder - to be closer to one another, making travel easier for the players.
The Thunder have been a minor league team since 1992, playing in the Central Hockey League until the 2014-15 campaign when the league folded and entered the ECHL as an expansion club. Wichita will enter their 26th season as a franchise this campaign. After such a long tenure in Wichita as a professional team, hockey has embedded itself in the community.
"Typically, Wichita, Kansas wouldn't be considered a traditional hockey market but it is now," said Thunder Head Coach Malcolm Cameron, entering his second season with the club. "It has a minor hockey program that plays out of our practice facility. We have a junior team (Wichita Jr. Thunder of the Western States Hockey League) that our team actually owns. They were the champions of their league last year, so hockey's got a pretty good brand in our city."
With hockey establishing its presence in the city, Cameron undertook the challenge of guiding the Thunder organization into becoming a hub of player development.
"The first thing I wanted to do was establish us as a destination for good, young players who can feel they can move up the ranks in pro hockey," said Cameron. "We accomplished that in year one. We had 13 players go up and play 268 games as recalls and we led the league."
Cameron's coaching resume is padded with years of experience and has left him with a number of connections to the Oilers organization. He's worked in the United Hockey League, CHL, Western Hockey League for the Regina Pats - where Oilers past and present have played including Jordan Eberle, Brandon Davidson and Martin Marincin - and now, the ECHL.
Cameron was former Oiler Pat Conacher's assistant coach with the Pats. Conacher won a Stanley Cup with the Oilers in 1983-84. "He was on the first Cup team for the Oilers," said Cameron, "and to hear his stories, as they were all young guys back then, was pretty cool."
Condors Head Coach Gerry Fleming has been everything from Cameron's rival, predecessor, colleague and even neighbour.
"Gerry actually lives in the same community here as me in Florida," said Cameron.
"I took over for him when he left the Florida Everblades in 2008. I played college hockey against him, so I've known him a long time and we had some good rivalries throughout the years."
Cameron and Oilers Assistant General Manager Bill Scott have also known one another for years.
All the links to the organization have Cameron beaming.
"I'm excited about working with Gerry and Bill and the staff in Edmonton as far as developing their prospects and getting them ready for one day to hopefully play in Edmonton," he said.