Wheat Kings fire Clouston

Cory Clouston’s stay in Brandon was a short one.

Cory Clouston’s stay in Brandon was a short one.

He was fired by the Brandon Wheat Kings on Tuesday after a single season behind the bench as the Western Hockey League team’s head coach.

Wheat Kings owner/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said one of the factors he considered was the possibility that Clouston, who has one year left on his contract, could opt out of the deal and move on to the professional ranks at a time that could hamper the club’s efforts to build for the future.

“All coaches have clauses in their contract where they can move up into professional hockey; that’s not something new,” McCrimmon said. “I think the reality with Cory is there’s an expectation that that’s a pretty good possibility, so his situation might be different than some coaches in that respect. And with that, it opens up the possibility that mid-July or later, the club could be looking for a head coach.”

A former National Hockey League head coach with the Ottawa Senators, Clouston guided the Wheat Kings to a 39-28-1-4 record, winning a first-round playoff matchup with the Calgary Hitmen before falling to the eventual league champion Edmonton Oil Kings.

McCrimmon said the team’s record played no part in the decision and Clouston said he stands behind his work here.

“I think if you second-guess yourself, you’re going to be in trouble as a coach,” Clouston said. “I think overall, where we finished and how we finished was very positive.”

No replacement has been named.

The Wheat Kings will be on the hook for Clouston’s contract this season unless the coach takes a job with a professional team.

Meanwhile, McCrimmon is keeping an open mind as he enters the search for a replacement.

“I haven’t made any decisions with respect to where we go next,” said McCrimmon, who coached the team for seven seasons before hiring Clouston. “We’ll look at a number of different people, we’ll look internally, we’ll look to sources outside our team. That process will start in earnest now.”

Clouston wasn’t arguing with McCrimmon’s logic.

“I don’t think I expected it, but I definitely understand Kelly’s thinking,” Clouston said. “He feels the team is in a rebuilding mode for the next couple years and he told me he just doesn’t want to have the coaching position in limbo for the next two months. I have options.

“He doesn’t want me coming in early July, telling him I’m going to the American League or wherever it may be. I’m not saying that was going to happen, but he doesn’t want that as an option and I can understand his reasoning.”

In fact, Clouston admitted he has been kicking a few tires to see what his options were, although he also told the Brandon Sun last week that he had been looking forward to returning to Brandon next season.

That exploration will intensify now.