"Slap Shot" meets "A Season on the Brink" in this twisted tale of minor league hockey in the place with more pro teams than any place in North America: TEXAS!

Cotton Kings make change
McDonald heads to Scorpions for multiple-portfolio


By JASON COHEN
Faceoff.com correspondent


The Wichita Thunder is set to spend another season in the cellar. The El Paso Buzzards and Fort Worth Brahmas have just a dozen wins between them. The San Angelo Saints are coming off a 1-15 skid.

So who's the first club in the CHL to make a coaching change?

The Lubbock Cotton Kings, one of the league's top teams.

In a whirlwind of activity that began when New Mexico Scorpions owner Doug Frank took over the Corpus Christi IceRays, Cotton Kings boss Bill McDonald made a shocking mid-season switch, accepting Frank's offer to become Head Coach, Assistant General Manager and Director of Hockey Operations for the Scorps.

The job came open because Frank wanted the sitting New Mexico coach, Patrick Dunn, to become GM in Corpus (Al Sims remains behind the bench there).

"McDonald has an opportunity to explore a career choice, to expand his role in the hockey workforce, so we have granted him a release of his contract,"

Lubbock general manager Mark Adams said.

Left unsaid: the fact that McDonald and Adams' relationship was akin to Mike Keenan and Neil Smith's. But unlike the New York Rangers, the Kings did not receive financial or player compensation to void McDonald's contract, nor, apparently, did Adams ask for any.

Assistant coach and former player Tracy Egeland steps into the Lubbock job.

McDonald leaves the C-Kings with a record of 81-52-23 in a little over two seasons. Long considered one of minor pro hockey's top coaches, he won three championships for Thunder Bay of the (pre-UHL) Colonial League and another with the CHL's Fort Worth Fire.

He also guided the Fort Worth Brahmas and the Cotton Kings to the Western Professional Hockey League finals in 1998 and 2001, respectively.

From 1998 to early 2000 McDonald coached the IHL Kalamazoo K-Wings, at the time the Dallas Stars' top farm team. When Jim Playfair replaced him in Michigan, McDonald finished the season with the Stars, staying in Dallas though the 2000 Cup Finals loss.

"I never thought I'd be sitting here," McDonald said Wednesday, during his first appearance on KNML "The Sports Animals"'s weekly coach's show. "It was obviously a strange deal, a whirlwind deal, but in this game, things change.

It was one of the toughest decisions I had to make."

"We're thrilled to have Bill McDonald join our organization," Doug Frank, who came to the IceRays' rescue on December 9, said in a statement. "While the timing of these moves is not what we would prefer as an organization, the situation in Corpus Christi necessitated that we fill the role there as soon as possible."

Previous Corpus owner William T. Davidson lost control of the team for a variety of reasons, including a still-outstanding lawsuit in which his minority partners charged financial improprieties. Davidson was also late with player paychecks, and delinquent in his league dues.

Davidson still owns the El Paso Buzzards, and while insiders there predict a similar regime change, league spokesman Steve Cherwonak said Tuesday that the Buzzards were "a member in good standing." Later in the week Rick Kozuback, CEO of the league's parent company Global Entertainment, told the El Paso Times, "we definitely have issues there."

Pat Dunn was an Assistant G.M. for the IceRays before coming to New Mexico, so Frank knew he was the guy to rebuild fan goodwill and repair torn relationships. To symbolize a new beginning, the team has changed its name to the Corpus Christi "Rayz."

The Cotton King players have vowed to rally around Egeland, and say they hold no grudge towards "Macker."

"He told us what was presented to him, that he was contemplating it very seriously," Kings defenseman James Sheehan told the Lubbock "Avalanche-Journal." "He wanted to know how we felt about it. We basically said we wish him all the best. It's obviously not a lateral move for him, so how can we hold him back? He's got aspirations like everybody else."

Still, it could be embarassing if McDonald leads the Scorps, currently three points behind Lubbock in the Southwest Division standings, to the playoffs at the Kings' expense.

"The eyebrows wouldn't be raised as high if I'd gone to Tulsa, or Fort Worth," the coach acknowledged. "It'll create a little intensity when . the Cotton 'Queens,' I'll call 'em now -- come to New Mexico."

 
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