The speculation among fans and local media had been building for weeks as the Worcester Railers continued to stumble after a promising opening to their third season. On the day before Thanksgiving, and on the heels of the club’s sixth consecutive loss, the team made it official: Jamie Russell is out as head coach and general manager.
The Railers have replaced him in both roles with former Worcester Sharks assistant coach David Cunniff.
Along with Russell, Derek Army was also let go by the team.
“Over the last three years, Jamie has been instrumental in providing a professional hockey culture for our organization and was able to set up a solid starting point for us,” Railers President Mike Myers said in a prepared statement. “Jamie’s professionalism and commitment to our organization was key in allowing us to succeed on and off the ice from Day 1 and we are appreciative of the foundation that he has put in place for us moving forward to be successful as an ECHL franchise. We wish Jamie and Derek all the best moving forward.”
In Cunniff, the Railers are getting a 49-year-old coach with 18 years experience in the American Hockey League, where this year he was serving as assistant coach with the Hartford Wolf Pack. That team is currently in first place in the AHL Atlantic Division.
Cunniff served on the Iowa Wild’s coaching staff from 2015-19, with a stint as interim head coach for part of the 2015-16 season. Additionally, he spent 12 seasons as either an associate or assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate, including eight seasons with the Worcester Sharks from 2006-2014. He also spend one season, 2014-15, with the Albany Devils.
“Our fans are familiar with the passion and hockey knowledge that David Cunniff brings to the table,” Myers said. “His track record developing players and his hockey pedigree will take the Railers to the next level in terms of on-ice production. We look forward to the next phase and confident that David Cunniff will provide the leadership and the 1know-how to make us successful moving forward.”
In parts of three seasons under Russell, the Railers went 73-66-20 in 159 regular season games. There were 2-4 in their one postseason appearance, which came in their inaugural 2017-18 season.
“It was obviously a very hard decision to come to,” Myers told the Worcester Sports scene. “Derek and Jamie have done a great job. They did a great job creating a foundation for us from Day One. They’ve been nothing but professional and polished, and gave us a great effort day and day out. They’re easy to work.”
At the same time, the team is getting an experienced AHL guy in Cunniff will now bring that to the ECHL level and the Railers.
“We’re excited to have a chance to have a guy like David Cunniff behind the bench. It’s pretty extraordinary, at this level. He brings such a huge amount of experience, coming from a first-place team in the AHL, with I think just shows … his level of competence in being able to get us on the right track and be part of the next chapter to take us where we feel we need to be as an organization.”
Russell was in the last year of his contract. Myers said the team does not not talk publicly about financial arrangements, but said the team considered all factors in making the move.
The decision came after a 5-4 loss in Maine Tuesday night to the Mariners, which marked the team’s sixth straight defeat. Worcester was also turned back at home on Sunday, 5-4, to the Adirondack Thunder.
Whatever proved to be the final straw, by last night the Railers had apparently seen enough.
Cunniff is expected behind the bench tonight, along with player/assistant coach Barry Almeida, when the Railers host the Newfoundland Growlers.
In related team news, the Railers announced vice president of marketing and communications Eric Lindquist will also serve as director of hockey operations.