EVANSVILLE, IN – Walking into the offices of the Evansville Thunderbolts for an interview with team owner Mike Hall and head coach Jeff Pyle is an experience. I spotted Mike in the same logo’d shirt he wore at the unveiling of the team name back on April 15th. The exhaustion on his face could lead someone to believe he had worn it since then.
It’s plausible he had gone non-stop for almost six months, only stopping to fall asleep on a floor somewhere and awaken the next day to continue on. Having only a team name, Coach and a couple of staff members on April 15th, the Thunderbolts will play their first hockey game just over a half of a year later.
Now, Hall hasn’t really worn the same clothes for six months or lived on the floor of his office space. But, he did confess to spending many (often most) nights doing something for his team well past a normal person’s bedtime. The long hours shouldn’t be confused for what is very obviously his top priority. There is a dedication to his family that was apparent in the two hours we spent together. Like any proud father, he beamed brightest when discussing his children.
Mike gave me a tour of the locker room. During our chat, we discussed water filtration, wheels on equipment containers, hockey sticks, among other things. There is a level of detail that’s important to Hall that I didn’t expect to see. Equally attention-getting is his desire to do as much of the work himself as he can. He truly enjoys it.
Juxtaposed to my time spent with Thunderbolts ownership is what appears to be the final nail in the IceMen coffin. Matt Harding did a great job of covering that. The decision by the IceMen to leave Owensboro in a lurch seems an appropriate end to what the franchise had become. I have written at length about that, but for the residents of Evansville who experienced the departure of that team, it represents closure.
As one door closes in the tri-state area for hockey; the future is bright with the new door open. I’m not suggesting that Mike Hall is any type of hockey savior. He said to me himself there are going to be mistakes made. That’s life. There is, however, a want and a desire in the Evansville offices to do this right.
A new season affords every fan the opportunity for hope. At this point in the season, no matter which team you root for, there is cause for optimism. Having a brand new hockey team allows fans to double down on hope. Not only is the season new in Evansville, so is the ownership, the league and almost all of the players.
No one can foreshadow how the season will go. I will say, it was raining when I walked into the offices of the Evansville Thunderbolts that morning. The sun was shining when my time was over. I think the same may be true for professional hockey in Evansville. Evansville hockey endured a lot of rain, but the storm is over and now it’s time for the sun.