MK Thunder ice hockey club are thrilled to reveal that Lewis Clifford will return for a second season as head coach in 2018-19.
The Milton Keynes native took over the reins in 2017-18 and guided the team to a playoff berth as Thunder stepped up to the second tier of British hockey for the first time.
“I’m delighted that Cliff has agreed to continue as head coach next season,” said MK Thunder GM Dave Fairhurst. “It’s an unfinished journey we set out on a year ago and I look forward to working with him again as we seek to establish Thunder as a real force in this league.”
Clifford led Thunder to a 7th placed finish in NIHL South 1 in his maiden season with a squad comprised of local talent, exciting prospects, and a host of experienced names familiar to Elite League and EPL hockey.
“As a group we all made mistakes last season, especially with our home form,” Fairhurst said. “But overall we achieved our pre-season goal of being competitive against every team in the league if not the one of being a .500 team. Cliff recognises our shortcomings but in his first season as a head coach at this level he recruited well and developed our younger players throughout the season while rightly relying on our experienced players in tight games.”
The MK junior ice hockey club graduate saw four of his young players receive international call-ups in his first year behind the Thunder bench, and Fairhurst is looking forward to the pair building on the foundations laid in 2017-18.
“I have a tremendous working relationship with Cliff, what a lot of people don’t see is the huge amount of work he does behind the scenes to help me, and the preparation he puts into every game and training session. Now with his second season ahead of him I’m certain we’ll see the team move forward and improve on last season which is all I can ask.”
This coming campaign will be Clifford’s eighth consecutive season coaching in Milton Keynes after winning the EPL Cup and EPL Playoffs during six years as an Assistant Coach with MK Lightning.
“I’m delighted to be coming back and having another crack at this ever evolving, ever improving league,” Clifford said. “Last year was a rollercoaster, it had all the ups and downs you get used to in hockey, but once the dust settled and I had time to reflect on the season with a clear mind, I realised we have built a very strong foundation.
“Last year we didn’t win enough games. I’m not a perfectionist, but I have levels of expectation on myself and my team and we didn’t meet them every single night — however, we did meet them more often than not, and it was literally a small handful of times that we struggled to at least make an impact in a game.”
A versatile forward during his playing career, Clifford made over 240 appearances in a Thunder shirt along with dressing for Oxford City Stars and Lightning before picking up the clipboard and whistle.
In addition to learning the coaching ropes with one of the EPL’s all-time successful franchises, Clifford has also worked behind the bench of the South West U15’s regional all-star team and oversees all age groups of the Milton Keynes junior ice hockey club as Head of Development.
“The team needs to evolve,” Clifford said of the work ahead of him this summer. “Without stating the obvious too much, we didn’t score enough goals and we gave up too many scoring chances, both areas I must address during the recruitment for next year’s team.
“We are competing with teams with significantly higher resources than ourselves, and with that comes it’s own challenges. But the situation we are in isn’t about to change, so alongside Dave, we will put together the best team we possibly can to entertain our growing bunch of loyal fans as much as possible next season.”