LAFAYETTE, LA — The Pensacola Ice Flyers got some good news this week, not on the ice but in the political arena. Thursday, the Escambia County Commission addressed the Flyers’ proposal to renew the team’s lease in the 30-year-old Bay Center. The Hangar, as the fans commonly call it, has been the home of Pensacola hockey since the ECHL Ice Pilots debuted in 1996.
In Thursday’s meeting, Ice Flyers owner Greg Harris proposed a five-year lease beginning after the current arrangement expires after the 2017-18 season. The Bay Center has been showing signs of its age in recent years, prompting talks of replacing the facility in the next few years.
Particularly concerning Harris is the imminent possibility of having to share the arena with another professional franchise. Pensacola, along with Shreveport, Louisiana, is a finalist for the NBA New Orleans Pelicans’ future G-League franchise. The G-League, in operation since 2001, is the NBA’s official developmental league. Earlier this week, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Shreveport’s arena $30 million bond proposal was unanimously rejected by their city council. The defeat in Shreveport makes Pensacola an overwhelming favorite to land the G-League franchise, prompting Harris to propose addendums to the lease agreement to protect the Flyers’ interests.
Harris suggested his team have the right of first refusal for postseason dates, as the SPHL and G-League both run their postseasons through April. Also, the Ice Flyers owner proposed exclusivity for the team’s corporate sponsors. Escambia County is likely to grant the hockey team, as the Bay Center’s primary tenant, priority for playoff dates. However, it is unlikely the County will interfere in corporate sponsorships each team will acquire.
While the Ice Flyers requested a five-year lease, the Commission spoke of countering with a three-year deal with options to extend the lease annually for two additional years. Also, the new contract will include capital improvements to the facility in the form of a new ice plant, dasher boards, glass, and a new ice cover to protect the rink when other events are taking place.
Finally, the Commissioners were steadfast in their support for the three-time SPHL champs and expressly mentioned the Bay Center’s eventual replacement would be set up for ice hockey. We will continue to report on developments as they unfold over the next few years.
We’re now less than a month away from the opening of training camps around the league and five weeks from the SPHL’s 14th opening night. Weekly during the season, we stir up a healthy debate with our power rankings. This week on Inside the SPHL, we rank the teams on their summer signings. There are some surprises down this list, read on.
10. Pensacola Ice Flyers: Total signings: 8 (0G/7F/1D). Flyers coach Jeff Bes is notoriously tight-lipped on player signings, but only two returning players (Josh Couisneau and Stephen Hrehoriak) from last season’s protected list and the loss of goalies Matt Zenzola and John McLean is concerning.
9. Knoxville Ice Bears: Total signings: 10 (2G/7F/1D). First-year coach Jeff Carr may have a solid goaltender in Troy Davenport. Veteran Berkley Scott is back for a seventh season, while rookie forward Lawrence Cornellier from Stevens Point should be a solid contributor right away. Look for the post-Craigen Ice Bears to be an uncharacteristically younger squad.
8. Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs: Total signings: 15 (1G/8F/6D). Dawgs bench boss Sam Ftorek literally scoured the globe searching for players – Dmytro Babenko (Ukraine), Mattias Tellström (Sweden), Viktor Tyutchenko (Russia), Toivo Hännikäinen (Finland), Fabien Currit (Switzerland), dealt with Fayetteville to reunite with defenseman Joe Sova, and worked on putting together a bigger squad than last season. Top blueliner Travis Armstrong signed last month but is likely to earn an ECHL gig. Also, the Dawgs top two scoring forwards from last season, Jackson Brewer & Riley Spraggs, remain unsigned.
7. Fayetteville Marksmen: Total signings: 15 (1G/8F/6D). Rookie coach Nick Mazzolini has huge holes to fill in his lineup. Mazzolini acquired Mississippi goaltender Peter Di Salvo in an August trade to fill the void left by Sean Bonar. There will be plenty of competition to fill Tayler Thompson‘s role. Still, there is some good experience returning to the Crown Center in the form of Jake Hauswirth, Brad Drobot, and Sean Robertson. Don’t count on Robertson to be in a Marksmen sweater, though – he should catch on in the ECHL.
Cottonmouths Bulls: Total signings: 19 (2G/11F/6D). Former ECHL Bulls captain Jamey Hicks makes his pro coaching debut as the SPHL Bulls inaugural coach and is putting together a squad with plenty of experience. The Bulls Cottonmouths almost knocked off the Mayhem in the first round of the playoffs last year. With seven former Snakes, including postseason sensation Mavric Parks, heading to Birmingham, the Bulls could be a surprise success.
5. Evansville Thunderbolts: Total signings: 24 (3G/14F/7D). The Bolts finished at the bottom of the SPHL last season, but I recall a certain Cinderella story from last season panned out pretty well for some kids in central Georgia. Starting netminder Tanner Milliron, top scorer Dave Williams, and two-way forward Chase Nieuwendyk will be key players if Evansville will rebound in their second season as the Macon Mayhem did.
4. Mississippi RiverKings: Total signings: 13 (2G/10F/1D). The Kings’ offseason is a case of quality over quantity. Goalie Tyler Green, acquired in the trade which sent Di Salvo to Fayetteville, is set to be the workhorse for coach Derek Landmesser. Mississippi returns serious talent in forwards Devin Mantha, captain Ryan Marcuz, and veteran Matt Harrington. Add second-year guys like Brant Sherwood and Dillan Fox, and you have one of the best top-six combinations in the league. Still, I’d like to see who’s going to be manning the blue line in Southaven, especially with Graeme Strukoff and Nick Rivait – also picked up in the Green/Di Salvo trade – playing in Europe.
3. Huntsville Havoc: Total signings: 21 (2G/13F/6D). Head coach Glenn Detulleo may already have the top goaltending tandem in the SPHL with ECHLer Keegan Asmundson and Buffalo State rookie Mike DeLaVergne. The team is coming together in typical Detulleo fashion: Experienced defensemen (Stuart Stefan, Nolan Kaiser, Andy Willigar), veteran leadership (Sy Nutkevitch, Nick Lazorko), role-players (Cheech Powers, Kyle Sharkey), and a bunch of fast rookies to replace ECHL-bound guys like Johnny Daniels (Wheeling) and Dylan Nowakowski (Cincinnati). Rocket City is on the cusp of having an elite single-A hockey squad.
Speaking of elite…
2. Peoria Rivermen: Total signings: 18 (3G/9F/6D). No worries, Rivermen fans. Your team should be just fine this year, despite the lack of a Storm Phaneuf signing announcement. Coach Jean-Guy Trudel is a bonafide goalie whisperer, and he’s got a quality rookie in SUNY-Geneseo’s Matt Leon. Nine Rivermen are returning from last season’s Presidents Cup finalists, including veteran blueliners Dave Pszenyczny & Ben Oskroba, power forward Cody Dion, and SPHL sophomores like Connor Gorman and Dakota Klecha. Returning to Peoria after a one season sabbatical is Mike Gurtler, and Dustin Jesseau was sharp with the RiverKings last season. What could make the Rivs better? Bacon, of course! Former Columbus netminder Spencer Bacon will compete in training camp for a roster spot on opening night.
1. Macon Mayhem: Total signings: 22 (4G/11F/7D). Meet the new Macon Mayhem, same as the squad which lifted Colonel Combsie’s Cup back in the spring. Thirteen players from the SPHL champs are returning for another championship run. Gone are playoff MVP goalie Jordan Ruby, captain Matt Summers, and forward Collin MacDonald. No worries, Mayhem Nation. Back are Passingham, Sicard, Siemer (♪♫♪), Trask, Pierog, Joseph, Echeverri… you get the picture. Pensacola’s John Gustafsson, a sharp two-way forward inexplicably unprotected by the Ice Flyers, was scooped up by coach Kevin Kerr. Add some quality rookie signings like Dylan Denomme (Univ. of Windsor) & Darren McCormick (SUNY-Cortland), along with high-scoring two-time FHL champion Justin Brausen, and the Mayhem are nobody’s surprise this season.
You can find all of the league’s offseason signings, including ECHL training camp attendees, here on The Sin Bin at http://thesinbin.net/2017-sphl-transactions
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