Why Wichita Thunder are bringing back hockey coach Bruce Ramsay on contract extension

·3 min read
Ed Bailey/Courtesy

In the days following a disappointing near-miss of the ECHL playoffs, key Wichita Thunder players paid a visit to the office of general manager Joel Lomurno to make their thoughts known.

They knew missing the playoffs for a second year in a row might doom their head coach Bruce Ramsay, who was in the final year of his contract with the minor league hockey franchise.

But one after one, the Thunder players lobbied for Ramsay to return to Wichita. Lomurno said plans of bringing Ramsay back were already in the works, but seeing the relationships the coach had formed with his players sealed the decision. On Friday, the Thunder announced they had signed Ramsay to a contract extension, while Lomurno confirmed to The Eagle it is for two years.

“Those players came to see me and they were like, ‘If Rammer is here, we’re here,’” Lomurno said. “I’ve been around here and done this for so long, I know how tremendously important it is to have a coach who is well-liked and gets along with the players. Bruce works hard and he is well-liked around the league and he knows we’ve got to win and we believe we are going to win next year and have a good season.”

The Thunder were primed for a return to the playoffs entering the month of February this season, but a string of bad news derailed the season. Star forward Brayden Watts was lost to injury, star goalkeeper Strauss Mann was promoted, backup goaltender Evan Buitenhuis left the team for a pro job in Germany, standout defenseman Dylan MacPherson was recalled and never returned and forward Timur Ibragimov was traded all in the span of around a week, right as Wichita was set to go on a lengthy road trip.

Despite a strong finish at home, Wichita came up one win short of reaching the ECHL playoffs.

“Man, it sucks that we missed it by one game because there’s no doubt that we would have won one more game if we had those guys here with us,” Lomurno said of the batch of key players who missed time in February. “We just had a really bad stretch after a bunch of bad stuff hit us at the same time. We’re obviously disappointed, but coach (Ramsay) never stopped working hard and he ended up bringing us some really good players.”

Ramsay, who played for the Thunder for the 2000-01 season, was also influential in helping the Thunder secure an affiliation with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and AHL’s San Jose Barracuda, a relationship Wichita hopes to extend for this coming year.

Ramsay has compiled a 125-122-32 record in four years on the bench for the Thunder, most notably leading the franchise to the Kelly Cup playoffs and earning ECHL Coach of the Year honors in 2021. This past season also saw Ramsay hit a coaching milestone of winning his 500th game on Feb. 16 against Idaho.

“I’m excited to be back with the Thunder,” Ramsay said in a statement. “We had a good year this past season, but it was disappointing to get so close and come up one point short of reaching our goal to get into the playoffs. We made great strides from the year before and I was proud of our group for how they competed and battled down the stretch. I’m excited to get this team back to where it needs to be and make a run in the postseason. Wichita feels like home to me. I love the city and the fans.”