The Louisiana IceGators… will suspend operations for the 2016-17 season.
Those words from the Louisiana IceGators’ Monday morning press release confirmed what many hockey fans across Acadiana have suspected: There will be no next year for the IceGators. The 2016-17 season will mark the second hiatus of professional hockey in Lafayette. The previous hockey stoppage lasted four years, from 2005 when the ECHL incarnation of the IceGators franchise folded until the birth of the SPHL Gators in 2009.
Arena renovations will begin at the end of this month at the Cajundome and will run through the end of November.
The seeds of the IceGators’ departure were sown back in 2014, when the Cajundome began to secure the $20 million in funding to finance needed renovations in the 30-year-old arena. By early 2015, the Cajundome secured the funds to replace and reconfigure the seating, install new lighting, upgrade concessions, and resurface the aging roof. The six-month project, scheduled to begin at the end of the month, would have resulted in the IceGators having to play the first six weeks of the season on the road.
Countless hours have been spent… looking at different scenarios on how we can make this season happen.
Despite knowing for almost two years of the upcoming logistical predicament, the Gators organization had few options for playing in 2016-17. Attempting to play 28 home games in the Cajundome was never a viable option for the team. The arena’s primary tenants are the University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s and women’s basketball teams. The NCAA Division 1 program play the bulk of their home games between December through February. Additionally, the Mardi Gras holiday closes the Cajundome for almost two weeks in late February and major events like Monster Jam and a rodeo consume another two weeks of possible hockey dates in March. The IceGators essentially had the impossible task of fitting all 28 home games in 11 calendar weeks.
The other options were even less palatable. The team could attempt to play the first month of their schedule in Shreveport, sharing an arena with the NAHL Shreveport Mudbugs; or play games at the Baton Rouge River Center (the former home of the ECHL Baton Rouge Kingfish). Both options would have resulted in the franchise establishing temporary homes in either city, or force the team to travel two to three hours for practices and home games – both choices prohibitively expensive.
A feasible schedule is simply not available at this time.
For the foreseeable future, hockey in Acadiana is now under the sole stewardship of the Tier 3 Junior NA3HL Louisiana Drillers. The Drillers, coached by former IceGators’ coach (and Washington Capitals legend) Kevin Kaminski. The team plays at the 250-seat Planet Ice rink in Lafayette. The league begins play in September and continues into March. The IceGators’ absence provide a huge opportunity for the Drillers, who are certain to get a sizable boost in ticket inquiries. Possibly, if the franchise plays their cards right, a more suitable venue could be in the junior team’s future.
On behalf of the organization we would like to thank our Season Ticket Holders, Corporate Partners, fans and the community for all of your support.
It’s almost a certainty that this version of the SPHL Louisiana IceGators have played their last game. Only time will tell if professional hockey has left Louisiana permanently or perhaps another visionary with deep pockets will be able to see if the third try will be a charm.