ORLANDO, FL – The holiday season is a time for reflecting and dreaming. 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 our annual 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 Return to the Playoff Dance
The Atlanta Gladiators are a team that has had its impressive runs in the regular season, but they have lacked the oomph needed down the stretch to get to the playoffs. The past four years have been lackluster for Atlanta, which this is a shame for a metropolis that has been home to two NHL franchises, the Flames and the Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets).
On Nov. 14, the team broke in the top 10 in The Sin Bin’s weekly Power Rankings, but since then, it has found it challenging to put streaks of wins together, and it seems like Atlanta might be headed for another so-so season.
The Gladiators are something of a mystery. The team consistently puts dynamic players on the ice: This year, Phil Lane, Brady Vail, and Lindsay Sparks are all averaging a point per game. But it has failed to weld the pieces into a playoff machine. The Gladiators need to find a boost of energy and some team chemistry to shake it out of its doldrums. Maybe Santa could spare a few hardworking elves to awaken a winning bond and spirit.
A Renovation to the Germain Arena . . . Please!
The Florida Everblades’ infamous Germain Arena continues to decline in quality. In addition to the already evident problems with lighting and sound, the arena now has leaks and water damage due to the effects of Hurricane Irma back in September. With the arena now just about 20 years old, the Everblades could really benefit from a complete renovation of the place they call home. The top team in the Eastern Conference deserves a top-tier arena with plentiful (and functioning) holiday lights to match its on-ice success.
No More Playing Second Fiddle to that Other South Carolina Team
The Greenville Swamp Rabbits have been second banana to their state rival, the South Carolina Stingrays, for too long. The team has had many great regular seasons, but when it comes to the playoffs, they just can’t find a way to get past the Rays. This year, the Swamp Rabbits are looking to Santa to provide some Stingray stew drenched in a healthy shower of victory carrots. The key for the team will be some defense. The club is relying on a high-powered offense, but it has currently given up over 100 goals so far. If it is unable to control its defensive zone, the Swamp Rabbits are in store for more disappointment down the stretch. Maybe Santa will loan them the Abominable Snowman to clear things out in front of their net.
A New Mascot that Reflects Jacksonville
Icemen? Florida? Something about the name Jacksonville Icemen just doesn’t suit this Sunshine State team. Yes, it is true that they’re paying homage to the former Evansville Icemen, the team that was moved to the city, but the name just doesn’t reflect the city of Jax. Many of the other teams in the South Division have a name that reflects their city and area—Orlando Solar Bears, Greenville Swamp Rabbits, Norfolk Admirals. The Icemen should look to these teams and come up with a name that screams JACKSONVILLE! A good choice would be a name paying tribute to the military presence in the area, like the Jacksonville Bombers or the Jacksonville Destroyers. The Bombers name would also be a good tie-in to the Winnipeg Jets, the Icemen’s NHL affiliate.
An Even Keel and a New Affiliate
The Norfolk Admirals have entered a snowstorm, and they could use the help of a red-nosed reindeer to light the way through the darkness. The team has struggled with attendance and the ownership has been in disarray. In a span of 14 months, the Admirals have had new owners, brought in a new president, fired one coach, hired another coach, signed a new affiliation agreement (with the Nashville Predators), and fired the president whom they had just hired.
As if that wasn’t enough the Admirals saw the termination their new affiliation agreement at the end of last month. This added another blow to the Admirals’ sinking ship. What the team needs is someone to take control of the helm and a new affiliate—an affiliate that will help turn this franchise’s fate around. Maybe the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Florida Panthers would be willing to help the Admirals in finding their Christmas wish. The problem is that a new affiliate might be wary of tying itself to a franchise that seems so adrift, so Santa might also need to conjure some magical illusion to make things seem more substantial and stable in Norfolk than they actually are.
Consistency Between the Pipes, and a Healthy Active Roster
The Orlando Solar Bears’ season has presented many struggles thus far. With a very slow start in October and November, the team has found itself searching for traction. Following Ryan Massa’s retirement last season, it became apparent that the Solar Bears were spoiled over the past two years when it came to goalies. While their current goalies Cal Heeter and Mackenzie Skapski have had their strong moments, both goalies struggled to find their footing in the early going. Orlando has also suffered from key players spending time on injured reserve. Veterans Sean Zimmerman and Darryl Bootland are now in the lineup following off-season surgeries, and Joe Perry returned to the ice for the Dec. 15 game against the Norfolk Admirals. So things are turning around. If Santa could bring some more solid, consistent goaltender performances and keep the players healthy, the Solar Bears will find themselves building the chemistry needed to claw into a playoff spot. That would make for a sweet present under the tree.
Kelly Cup Finals Redemption
The South Carolina Stingrays have had much success in the Kelly Cup playoffs over the past few years. Advancing to the finals in 2015, the Stingrays nearly made it in 2016 after falling short to the Wheeling Nailers. The team would not let this loss get to them, as they would once again make an appearance in the Kelly Cup Finals in 2017. However, their celebration would not last, as the team would fall 4-0 to the Colorado Eagles. This season, the Stingrays are hoping to build anew from the embarrassing finals of last season and get the championship vessel sailing again—but this time, they are hoping that Santa will also bring some victories in the championship round.
Coming tomorrow, a look at the Central Division.