EVANSVILLE, IN – After finishing in last place in the inaugural season, the Evansville Thunderbolts are looking for a much stronger start than last season’s 11-game winless streak for the 2017-18 season. A start like this could give them the push they need to make the playoffs for the first time in the history of the franchise.
With the new season drawing near, the Thunderbolts with be once again coached by Jeff Pyle. Joining Pyle this year will be player/assistant Dylan Clarke. Clarke will be a familiar face to Evansville fans this season since lacing up his skates with the ECHL Evansville (now Jacksonville) Icemen from 2012-14.
I was able to reach out to Coach Pyle and get his insights for the Thunderbolts’ upcoming season.
The Sin Bin: With the team you are putting together this year, what differs from what the fans saw on the ice in the inaugural season?
Jeff Pyle: Early in the year, we weren’t very good so throughout the season changes were made for the better of the team. We brought in new players and let players go to make sure we had the right players in place to win. The returning guys we have were guys we could win games with last season. The guys played hard enough to get noticed by some ECHL teams like Josh Elmes and Austin McKay getting called up. Bringing in a veteran player like Clarke will help push the guys on and off the ice. This year will be an entirely different beast.
TSB: With 13 of the regular season games being played against the Rivermen, with that help or a hurt a team playing an opponent that many times?
JP: Playing a team like the Rivermen that many times in a season is something that can help the team. You wanna play someone who will challenge your game and make you play hard to win. Peoria is a team you wanna beat especially playing them 13 times this season. Getting that first win against a good team like the Rivermen will help the season start off on the right foot.
TSB: November is a busy month at the Ford Center which leads to the first eight out of 12 games being on the road. Will that be something beneficial to team bonding this early in the season?
JP: Last season we played a lot of games in October and November at home. This year we have the first two games of the season at home then head on the road for rest of October and majority of November. With being on the road for that amount of time, it will help this team bond like they had the chance to do towards the end of the season last year. During those first couple months of the season in Evansville there is a lot going on outside the Ford Center with football and basketball so being on the road and coming back home will give the fans the hockey they wanna see.
Let us take a look at the breakdown for the 2017-18 season for the Thunderbolts:
- The Thunderbolts will start their season on October 21st against the Rivermen in their first match up of the 13 they have against each other this year.
- The Thunderbolts will face the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs on November 3rd to start the seven of eight road games for the month.
- The Thunderbolts will face the Birmingham Bulls eight times in their inaugural season in the SPHL. First meeting scheduled for Friday, November 24th at Pelham Civic Complex.
- The New Years Eve game is one the fans don’t want to miss against the Rivermen with fireworks to follow the game inside the Ford Center.
Peoria Rivermen – 13 meetings (7 Home, 6 Away)
Macon Mayhem – 7 meetings (3 Home, 4 Away)
Birmingham Bulls – 8 meetings (4 Home, 4 Away)
Knoxville Ice Bears – 7 meetings (4 Home, 3 Away)
Pensacola Ice Flyers – 5 meetings (2 Home, 3 Away)
Mississippi RiverKings – 6 meetings (4 Home, 2 Away)
Huntsville Havoc – 4 meetings (2 Home, 2 Away)
Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs – 3 meetings (1 Home, 2 Away)
Fayetteville Marksmen – 3 meetings (1 Home, 2 Away)
October – 4 (3 Home, 1 Away)
November – 8 (1 Home, 7 Away)
December – 11 (7 Home, 4 Away)
January – 11 (5 Home, 6 Away)
February – 10 (5 Home, 5 Away)
March – 10 ( 5 Home, 5 Away)
April – 2 (1 Home, 1 Away)
With less than two months until the opening night game on October 21 against the Rivermen, the Thunderbolts are looking to put together the team they need to make the championship run this season. Make sure to keep your eyes posted for more great news about the Evansville Thunderbolts as the season draws near.
Special thanks to Jeff Pyle for his time and Tim Young for his assistance.