For the second time in just more than 16 months, the Omaha Lancers are looking for a new head coach and general manager.
The Lancers announced Monday that the team and Mike Aikens have agreed to a “mutual separation.” Assistant coach Brian Kaufman will lead Omaha in its final two regular-season games — Friday’s home finale against regular-season champion Dubuque and Saturday at Sioux Falls.
Aikens took over as interim head coach on Nov. 30, 2011, after Bliss Littler was fired. The interim tag was removed late in the season, and Omaha owner Ben Robert gave Aikens a one-year contract.
Robert declined comment when contacted Monday night.
Aikens led the Lancers to a 67-40-2 record — a .624 winning percentage — in just over 1½ seasons with the team.
“I’m appreciative of the hard work of the players and the opportunity the Lancers gave me,” Aikens said. “It’s a great organization from top to bottom, and there are a lot of good people there. To be .624 is a pretty darned good number, and I’m really proud of that.”
Aikens also said things were “tightened up off the ice” during his time in charge.
“The players have done a good job of being good citizens off the ice,” Aikens said. “We’ve run a clean program, but we would have liked to have won a couple more games.”
United States Hockey League owners voted to add four extra regular-season games for the 2012-13 campaign and reduce the number of playoff teams in each conference from six to four. The Lancers, the fifth-place team in the Western Conference, will miss the postseason for the first time in 24 years.
While the Lancers more than held their own against the top teams in the Western Conference — they are a combined 18-6-1 against Sioux Falls, Fargo and Lincoln — they struggled against the three bottom teams (Tri-City, Des Moines and Sioux City).
“Some of those games I felt like we dominated and should have won, but didn’t,” Aikens said. “We put a few games like that in the win column and we’re in pretty good shape.”
Aikens said he believes the Lancers are in great shape for a return to the playoffs, with a solid base of young players who developed as the season progressed.
“Whoever comes in is walking into a pretty nice situation,” Aikens said. “There is a good nucleus of good hockey players with the potential to be extremely good next year.
“I’m disappointed I won’t have a chance to coach there anymore and see things through.”
Contact the writer:
402-618-4113, email@example.com, twitter.com/stevebeideck