Before we kick off our annual mid-summer article, we at The Sin Bin would like to express our condolences to the family of Knoxville Ice Bears and Evansville Thunderbolts goaltender Michael Doan, who lost his life in a car crash last weekend. Doan, who played college hockey with Northern Michigan and the University of Windsor, appeared in 20 games with Knoxville and Evansville in his rookie SPHL season and earned Player of the Week honors for October 31 through November 6, 2016.

Doan, who played college hockey with Northern Michigan and the University of Windsor, appeared in 20 games with Knoxville and Evansville in his rookie SPHL season and earned Player of the Week honors for October 31 through November 6, 2016.

Michael Doan was 25 years old.

We hope y’all have been enjoying your summer, and haven’t melted away like the rinks in your favorite hockey arena. It’s the time of year where our focus shifts elsewhere: vacation plans, baseball, or scouring news reports for any nuggets of information about your teams.

If you’re a Nashville Predators fan, your summer just got underway after their team’s incredible run to the Stanley Cup Final. If you’re a Columbus Cottonmouths fan, you’re doing something once thought unimaginable: facing the first (and hopefully only) winter without hockey in two decades.

If you’re a Columbus Cottonmouths fan, you’re doing something once thought unimaginable: facing the first (and hopefully only) winter without hockey in two decades.

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The unlikely run of the Predators to within two wins of claiming Lord Stanley’s Mug may have been the biggest shot in the arm for southern hockey since the sports initial exposure to sports fans south of the Mason-Dixon line back in the 1990’s – a time where every city from Lafayette to Richmond had a new team. Nashville, now the undisputed nexus of southern hockey, put on a party comparable to Mardi Gras in New Orleans for two months and served notice to sports marketers everywhere.

The Predators, located smack in the middle of Southeastern Conference country, brought the collegiate football atmosphere to the NHL game-day experience. It’s no secret the SEC football experience is an affair filled with tailgating, music, and getting ready for a game still hours away from being played. As it is with schools like Tennessee, Alabama, and LSU; the raucous pre-game festivities outside Bridgestone Arena transitioned to a raucous, rollicking time once the puck dropped.

As Nashville progressed through the postseason, the Predators faithful put on a show which would seem shocking to hockey’s traditional fans. We saw an entire arena of fans cheering and chanting in unison, much to the dismay of opposing teams. We saw cars being smashed with hammers and dozens of gold-and blue masked characters who resembled old-time pro wrestling characters. We also saw catfish, a delicious fried staple of southern cuisine, tossed onto the ice and becoming an instrument of crime in Pittsburgh. Although the Predators would fall two wins short, the unbridled enthusiasm of their fans captured the imagination of the hockey world and anyone looking to breathe new life into their sports teams.

Kudos, Nashville. Y’all did us proud.

If Nashville’s Stanley Cup run and the SPHL silly season are any indicators, we’re in for a wild ride for the 2017-18 season. The league has had a full-blown coaching carousel for the first time in five seasons.

First, we lost the SPHL’s longest-tenured coach in Jerome Bechard when the Cottonmouths folded up shop after last season ended. Bechard, a two-time league champion, was the lone charter coach remaining, and it’s tough to imagine going into a hockey season without him.

Meanwhile, the Knoxville Ice Bears parted ways with another long-term incumbent coach when Mike Craigen was terminated. Craigen helmed the Ice Bears through seven seasons and a league title in 2015. Unlike the impossible-to-replace Bechard. Craigen was replaced by ECHL Utah Grizzlies assistant Jeff Carr, who begins his first season as a professional bench boss.

But wait… there’s more. One of the worst-kept league secrets became public when the Fayetteville FireAntz… Marksmen released Jeff Bes. It was clear the new ownership in Fayetteville, Chuck Norris and Jeff Longo, wanted a clean slate for their organization while Bes sought to be closer to his Biloxi, Mississippi home. Bes (more on him in a bit) is replaced by a pair of longtime ECHL stars. Nick Mazzolini, a Kelly Cup champion with the Alaska Aces, becomes the first coach of the now-rebranded Marksmen in his first coaching job. Assisting Mazzolini as Director of Hockey Operations is former Reading Royals captain Ryan Cruthers. Cruthers, now running a junior team as owner/coach of the USPHL Charlotte Rush, will work with the Marksmen in a part-time role.

We’re not done yet. In February, the Pensacola Ice Flyers brought back Rod Aldoff to replace Kevin Hasselberg in an attempt to jump-start a postseason run. Aldoff, under contract as a scout with the Edmonton Oilers, returned to the NHL organization after the Flyers faltered to the league champion Macon Mayhem in the Presidents Cup semifinals. Replacing Aldoff as the newest coach of the Flyers? Bes, who has a job only a two-hour drive from Biloxi.

Finally… the blast-from-the-past Birmingham Bulls, gearing up for their SPHL incarnation in Pelham, Alabama, brought in one of their own to be the team’s inaugural coach. While many thought Bechard – a former Bulls player during his ECHL career – was the obvious choice, owner Art Clarkson brought in Jamey Hicks, the ECHL Bulls’ all-time leading scorer, to run the fledgling franchise.

Getting back to Columbus…  a chance remains for hockey to return for the 2018-19 season, but plenty of questions remain before the ice is once again laid down in the Columbus Civic Center. Fidel Jenkins, a New York City businessman, has put together a proposal to radically rebrand the Cottonmouths. Jenkins, who to the best of our knowledge has applied for league membership but neither yet secured a lease from the CCC nor obtained final approval of SPHL boss Jim Combs and the Board of Governors. Jenkins’ plan involves a branding change from the Cottonmouths to the soccer-ish Columbus Burn and attendance-scaled promotional giveaways ranging from free movie tickets to new vehicles.

The Columbus project is the second foray into minor pro hockey for Jenkins. Jenkins purchased the Indiana (PA) Ice Miners in the now-defunct Mid-Atlantic Hockey League, but the league folded during the 2008 offseason before Jenkins was able to begin his first season as owner.

Other than the questions besides gaining a lease and league approval, Jenkins stirred controversy with the branding and logo reveal. The logo, which Jenkins originally has claimed to have designed, turned out to be an easily purchased royalty-free logo bought from an image mill while local fans widely panned the proposed logo and naming concepts. Jenkins is open to change, but only if fans pony up a strong season-ticket commitment of about 2,000 tickets. In other words, put your money where your mouth is.

I’m not sure if that’s the optics you want to present to a fan base who feels they have been “burned” in the past. With an August deadline approaching to finalize an arena lease as well as league approval, we’ll see how Jenkins’ gambit plays out.

Our last order of business, and the real reason for the silly season… Player signings!

For the fourth straight season, a tradition as long as Brad Drobot being the first Fayetteville signing, I’ll track every single SPHL off-season transaction. Click on the fancy new graphic above and bookmark it in your browser and be magically transported to our off-season player tracker.

Prior to Drobot Day, when the now-rebranded Marksmen announce the signing of their fourth-year enforcer and unofficially launch the summer signing season, the league’s two newest teams were already inking guys.

In Birmingham, where the Cottonmouths… Bulls have been busy in securing many of Jerome Bechard’s former charges to training camp reservations. The Bulls, with goalie Mavric Parks and Snakes scoring ace Keegan Bruce already taken in their expansion draft, added four more teammates from down the road.

Craig Simchuk, the early favorite to be named the Bulls’ inaugural captain, was the first off-season signee. Forwards Alex Kromm & Alex Taulien, along with blueliner Brandon Fehd, followed Simmer up I-65 to Magic City.

The Evansville Thunderbolts, last year’s expansion team, started the summer by getting commitments from their protected list. Seven of their 13 protected players booked their October reservations, including starting goaltender Tanner Milliron, leading scorer David Williams, enforcer Al Graves, and the hard-nosed John Scorcia.

Drobes saw his shadow!

Back to Drobot Day, which fell on July 11th this year. For the record, Brad Drobot DID see his shadow, meaning ten more weeks of summer, twelve if you’re in Louisiana.

This season’s festivities lasted all day, with the Knoxville Ice Bears and Presidents Cup champion Macon Mayhem joining the party. Coach Kevin Carr announced the Ice Bears first signee in A. J. Fossen from Clarkson University. The physical forward played four years for Casey Jones’ Golden Knights, racking up 22 goals, 32 assists, and 183 penalty minutes. The defending champs used Drobot Day to announce Dennis Sicard’s return for an 11th SPHL season. Sicard, now a two-time cup hoister, scored 32 points (14G/18A) with 202 penalty minutes in the regular season and scored the first goal in Macon’s Cup-clinching game against Peoria.

The Mayhem would go on to obtain two more major early commitments. Jake Trask and his team-leading 21 goals and 48 points signed two days after Sicard, while fellow 40-pointer Stephen Pierog announced his signing earlier this week.

Josh Erickson, no… not the owner and brewmaster of Mandeville, Louisiana’s Chafunkta Brewing (I LOVE YOUR VOO KA RAY IPA BRO!!!), but the hockey player who played his cawlidge hawkey at Alaska-Fairbanks, signed with the Ice Bears a couple of days after Fossen’s deal became a matter of public record.

Sidebar: By the way… I’ll be slinging Erikson’s (the brewer, not the winger) beers at Gulf Brew at Lafayette’s Blackham Coliseum tomorrow (July 22nd) evening. If you’re in the Acadiana area… come by and sample tons of different beers for a good cause – the Acadiana Center for the Arts.

The same day Pierog signed (Pierogi Day?) with the Mayhem, a pair of veterans also inked deals. Jake Hauswirth and his league-leading power play cannon of a shot re-upped with the Marksmen, adding a huge piece of artillery to Mazzolini’s maiden squad. Meanwhile, in the shadow of the Sunsphere, the Ice Bears announced the return of the clutchiest of clutch guys, Berkley Scott for his seventh SPHL season, and his sixth with Knoxville. Hausy led the SPHL in both goals (31) and power play tallies (13) last season, while Buckets broke Josh McQuade’s mark of 11 game-winning goals from Fayetteville’s 12-13 season with a dozen deciding dingers.

Just when you thought I’d go a whole post without mentioning the Peoria Rivermen…

Mike Gurtler, who was kind enough to join us on our 2017 Presidents Cup Playoffs Preview Podcast and co-host of the excellent Varsity Bros podcast, returned to the Rivs from his one-season sabbatical. Gurts (from….. MERCYHURST!) notched 23 points (12G, 11A) despite battling injuries in the 15-16 season as he begins his sixth pro season. Peoria also announced a pair of rookie defensemen to this season’s camp roster with Kevin Kirisits and Kyle LeBrun. Kirisits played for the Rivs at the end of last season after finishing his college career at Utica, while LeBrun comes to Peoria from the Wentworth (MA) Institute of Technology.

Just yesterday (July 20th) the Mississippi RiverKings made their first signing announcement of the summer with the return of team captain Devin Mantha and the offensive stylings of rookie Donny Flynn. Mantha, returning for his fifth season, split time last season between Southaven and the ECHL haven of Fort Wayne, scoring 39 points (18G/21A) in 32 games for the Kings. Flynn, coming straight out of juniors with the EHL’s New Jersey Rockets, put up 76 points (18G/58A) in his final amateur season.

Not to be outdone, the defending champs decided to bring back a 45-point guy from last year…


Finally (I’m serious this time) a wild coincidence appears. Earlier on Thursday, we released our latest edition of our Into The Sin Bin podcast featuring former Mayhem/Havoc/RiverKings forward John Schiavo. Schiavo, a current IIHF inline hockey world champion, was interviewed by our own Adam Twenter. Fast forward to the evening, and the Marksmen announce Schiavo’s signing.

On deck here at The Sin Bin, and now that I’m mostly moved into my new house, we’re looking forward to breaking in the brand-spanking-new Sin Bin Southern Command here in Lafayette and beginning our second season of the almost-award-winning Inside the SPHL Podcast with my partner-in-crime Matthew Harding.

Look for plenty of new guests along with all-new shenanigans for the upcoming season. Jimmy “McFabulous” Gentry begins his second season with his excellent analysis out of Fayetteville, while Dawne Walters and her amazing Irish accent (even though she’s a Yinzer) will bring another season of entertaining and insightful Q&A sessions.

We have even more major announcements coming along as the summer progresses, but you’re going to have to stay tuned…I’m heading to the beach!

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