HED:Slumping T-Rex fires Esdale

By Jake Adams

Daily Journal

Breaking the Western Professional Hockey League record for consecutive losses isn't a good way to hold on to a coaching job.

Tupelo T-Rex coach Peter Esdale was fired Monday, the day after the team lost its league-record 11th straight game Sunday, 5-1, to Shreveport.

"We are extremely sorry about Peter's situation," T-Rex owner Duncan Gillespie said in a written statement. "However, the harsh reality of professional sports is that when you lose 11 of your first 12 games you need to make changes."

Esdale had the title of head coach as well as director of hockey operations.

Dave Latta has been named the team's interim head coach. Latta, most recently an assistant coach for the Anchorage (Alaska) Ace, will arrive in Tupelo today and will be behind the bench tonight when the T-Rex hosts the Monroe Moccasins at 7:05 p.m.

The T-Rex beat Monroe in its season opener Oct. 15.

Latta is a veteran of professional hockey, having played briefly in the NHL, the American Hockey League and in Europe.

"We feel that Dave's pro hockey experience will be vital in the upcoming period to turn our hockey program around," Gillespie said.

The move may have come as a surprise to Esdale, who said on Sunday's pregame radio show he was planning to make personnel changes.

The players learned of the coaching chance Monday morning.

"I guess we were a little surprised," forward Dave Szabo said. "It's just something that comes with the game. We want to be more competitive. It's tough to play with emotion in a rut like this. Hopefully this will spark us."

Esdale had been tinkering with the T-Rex roster since the season began. His latest change was at goalie, where he replaced Francois LeBlanc with Jiro Nihei. It was Esdale's belief that he needed to find some older, more experienced and more aggressive players to compete in the WPHL.

T-Rex General Manager Eric Muhlstein didn't know if Latta's interim duties would be as extensive as Esdale's or if Latta would acquire the director of hockey operations title.

"Whatever the ownership decides in that regard is the way we'll go," Muhlstein said. "This is something that has come up quite rapidly."

The T-Rex did not practice Monday and starts a three-game homestand tonight against Monroe.

While losing 11 straight was bad, it was the style with which the T-Rex had been losing that may have brought about the coaching change.

Shreveport beat the T-Rex 5-1 twice in three nights. The Arkansas GlacierCats embarrassed the T-Rex 6-0. The last time the T-Rex scored more than one goal in a game was Oct. 31 in a 4-2 loss to New Mexico.

"I don't think winning immediately is something we're necessarily after," Muhlstein said. "Of course, we would like to win immediately, but we need to be competitive. And that's the main reason for the change to be competitive."

Esdale could not be reached for comment.

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