Sunday, December 9, 2007

This just in! Thunder fire head coach!

Mark French
French, Murphy dismissed, Weingartner takes the helm.

WICHITA, KS- The Wichita Thunder, off to the slowest start in franchise history, dismissed third-year head coach Mark French today and named former Thunder star Rob Weingartner as interim head coach.

A native of Lake Ronkonkoma, New York, Weingartner (pronounced WINE-gart-ner) began his pro career as a member of the inaugural Thunder team in 1992. Known as a gritty, hard-working player, Weingartner was a key member of both the 1994 and 1995 CHL Champion Thunder teams, compiling 36 goals, 66 points and 424 penalty minutes, while playing under head coach Doug Shedden.

“Rob played the game as it should have been played and has stayed close to the game since his retirement. He is a fierce competitor, who was a proven commodity on the ice”, said Wichita Thunder President Chris Presson. “Rob helped begin a tradition of winning ways in Wichita through his presence on both Thunder Championship teams. We hope that mentality transcends to his coaching style and lends itself nicely to winning games.”

Following Wichita’s second CHL Title, Weingartner was one of just three players who chose to stay with the Thunder in 1995-96. He served as team captain until he was traded to San Antonio for Dave Shute, and came within one game of a third straight CHL Title with the Iguanas. Ironically, the Thunder traded Shute the following season to Oklahoma City for current team captain Jason Duda.

Weingartner spent most of the remainder of his career playing under Shedden with the ECHL’s Louisiana IceGators, before retiring following the 1999-2000 season. Over his eight-year playing career, the hard-nosed forward amassed 308 points and 1726 penalty minutes in 447 games. He served as an assistant coach for the Thunder last season.

“I am both thrilled and thankful for this great opportunity”, said Weingartner. “I enjoyed my time here as a player and hope that I can help the Thunder return to being one of the elite teams in the CHL.”

Weingartner is the ninth head coach in franchise history and the third to take over midseason. Shedden took the helm of a 6-20-2 team in 1992-93 and compiled an impressive 19-13-2 record. In 2002-03, Derek Laxdal stepped in for an 8-19-7 club and went 12-17-0. The following seasons both Shedden and Laxdal had a playoff team.

Weingartner resides in Goddard, Kansas, with his wife Renee and their three children. He will make his head coaching debut in Mississippi on Tuesday, when the Thunder face the RiverKings at 7:05 p.m.

French was let go by the Thunder after compiling a record of 70-59-16. He guided the Thunder to a 38-win season in his first year, followed by a .500 record last season. This season, the Thunder currently has the worst record in the CHL, at just 4-13-0. The Thunder also dismissed second-year assistant coach Ben Murphy.

“Mark has been a consummate professional and he put everything he had into his job, while trying harder than anyone I know. We both wish it would have translated into more wins on the ice. Unfortunately, it did not”, said Presson. “Thankfully, it is not a reflection of his character, but only a bump in the road. We wish him the very best.”

Weingartner, Presson and the rest of the Thunder team will be available for interviews with the media today at 4:30 p.m. at Lawrence Dumont Stadium.

The Thunder will return home this weekend, hosting the Odessa Jackalopes on Friday and the Rocky Mountain Rage on Saturday. Both games will face-off at 7:05 p.m. at the Kansas Coliseum. For more information or to order tickets, call the Thunder office at (316) 264-GOAL or visit our website at

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