ORLANDO, FL – The holiday season is a time for reflecting and dreaming. This year, The Sin Bin wants to help the sometimes battered and bruised squads get into the Christmas spirit, and we are doing so by putting together special wish lists for Santa. If that North Pole miracle-worker can bring at least some of these treats in his sleigh, it will make the New Year bright. We begin with the South Division and will rotate through the league in coming installments.
A Red-Nosed Reindeer to Guide the Sleigh: At the end of November, the Gladiators ran into a winter storm, and they need some help to steer their course. They are currently on a three-game losing streak, and four of their remaining seven games in December are against the division-leading Florida Everblades. The 12-game suspension handed down to Tyler Murovich has had ripple effects on the team, and roster shuffles have added to the woes. There are some bright spots, however. Justin Buzzeo was the CCM ECHL Player of the Month for November, and Brock Higgs has returned from the Providence Bruins (Atlanta’s AHL affiliate). But the real Rudolph’s are those surprise heroes who come from unlikely sources. We might find a magical reindeer lurking beneath the outfit of 19-year-old goalie Dan Vladar from Providence. Other possibilities are Johnny Daniels and Austin McKay, two SPHL players who have signed on to the team and who are motivated to make an impact.
A Sane Divisional Schedule: The Cincinnati Cyclones have had it rough this year. Originally intended to be in the Central Division, the Cyclones were left in the cold when the ECHL Board of Governors decided to put Cincinnati in the South after the schedule had already been issued. The end result is a steady helping of matches against the Indy Fuel, the Fort Wayne Komets, and the Toledo Walleye. However, there are some divisional teams, like the Solar Bears and the Everblades, that the Cyclones will not play at all this year, and this is unfortunate. The team will only play five games against teams in their division. For Christmas, the Cyclones hope that the Ghost of Christmas Past will pay a visit so that it can reverse time and redo the alignments or the schedule. Since that probably won’t happen, let’s hope the team gets preferential treatment when the schedule for next year is decided. Even better – Santa could bring cheer to the Cyclones by getting them into the playoffs where they can properly square up against a South Division rival.
Germain Arena Renovation: The place that the Everblades calls home has many positives. It is a smaller arena, meaning that it has the highest fill capacity percentage in its division. It is owned by the Everblades’ affiliate the Carolina Hurricanes, allowing the Everblades to call the shots when it comes to scheduling. However, the arena has seen better days. Originally built in 1998, the arena has had few renovations since its construction. As such, many aspects of the facility are outdated – the scoreboard, the seats, the speaker system, and some of the lighting system. I actually witnessed one of the overhead lights catch fire a year ago during the College Hockey Classic. It dropped flaming shrapnel onto the bench of Boston College and created a 45-minute delay. When fire falls from the skies, it’s a sign from above. Santa should show the Everblades fans some love by giving the arena a facelift.
Extra Toys for Tad O’Had: Assistant Coach Tad O’Had is an unsung hero of the Everblades organization and a true professional. When Greg Poss left the helm last year to join the EC Red Bull Salzburg of the Austrian Hockey League, his second in command applied for the job. O’Had was passed over for Brad Ralph, but O’Had stayed on and has continued to fuel the team’s success. His specialty is finding talent. Last year, he helped to bring Matt Willows to the team, and Willows went on to become the ECHL Rookie of the Year. This year’s squad is filled with top tier ability, and the recent acquisition of Akim Aliu is going to make the squad even tougher. O’Had is deserving of some extra goodies when Santa visits this year.
More Respect for Stomper and the Swamp Rabbits Name: When Greenville ditched the Road Warrior mascot for the Swamp Rabbits, there were critics, but The Sin Bin is not among them. People who find the name silly are demonstrating their ignorance of Greenville. When you visit the city, you see “Swamp Rabbits” everywhere. It is a name deeply rooted in the city’s history, initially referring to a railroad line and then proudly embraced by the residents. The Road Warrior mascot always struck me as odd. Why would you want a team known for its prowess on foreign territory when it’s the hometown crowd that buys the tickets? The Swamp Rabbits makeover has shown Greenville that the team is serious about its connection to the community. And their new mascot is terrific. Santa should cast a charm over the Swamp Rabbits that gives them the power automatically to defeat any rival whose fans would mock the proud and true Swamp Rabbits name.
Speedy and Full Healing for Anthony Calabrese: The top of the wish list for the Admirals is easy to decide. Anthony Calabrese suffered two broken vertebrae when he was shoved into the board by Atlanta’s Murovich. Everyone in the division is praying for a quick and complete recovery for a class player. Here’s hoping that the spirit of the holidays will reach out with peace and love to the Admirals and to Calabrese’s friends and family.
T. J. Foster Clones and AHL Loans: The Admirals received a jolt of energy when the Toronto Marlies loaned forward T. J. Foster to the team. The swift skater is averaging 1.4 points per game. The Admirals could use another player or two like that to get it back on track. Here’s hoping that Santa has packed them up on his sleigh.
Christmas Came Early: The arrival of Drake Berehowsky as head coach in November has given the Solar Bears new life and a playoff attitude. One of his main missions was to get the team winning on home ice, and he has thus far delivered. We don’t entirely know how to explain the Berehowsky effect, but the Solar Bears hope the magic will continue well past Christmas.
Continuing Road Warrior Mojo: The Solar Bears, in general, have been very fortunate. They have a state-of-the-art arena owned by a welcoming franchise (the Orlando Magic), great management which is dedicated to bringing championship hockey to the city, and solid fan support. However, if there is one thing that the Solar Bears want for Christmas, it is consistent wins on the road. Winning at home again is great, but to win the division, you have to be more than OK since you are chasing the Everblades. A January road trip will send the Bears to the Colorado Eagles and the Alaska Aces, and the Solar Bears will need to be in top form for that pounding stretch.
$ and ¢ from S.C. to SC: Last January, news broke that the Zucker family, which owns the Stingrays, was seeking out a new financial agreement with the city of North Charleston to keep the hockey club afloat and the North Charlotte Coliseum occupied. The team has been steadily losing money (an estimated $500,000 a year), and it is relying on the good graces of both the Zucker family and the city to keep hockey in North Charleston. One positive sign is that attendance is currently up nearly 15% this year. The North Charleston Coliseum is a great venue, and the Stingrays’ top notch performance over the past seasons deserves some reward. The good faith efforts of the Zucker family, the city of North Charleston, and the team management merit that good Santa Claus karma. The fact that South Carolina and Santa Claus share the same initials can’t hurt.
Another Record Win Streak: Lightning rarely hits the same spot twice, but rarely doesn’t mean never. The glow from the record 23-game win streak that the team achieved in 2015 is still a recent memory. Something similar in 2017 would be nice. And should Santa prove stingy, the Stingrays would happily settle for a more reasonable and round number. How does a 20-game streak sound?