LAFAYETTE, LA – On behalf of southern hockey fans, I’d like to welcome y’all Evansville “True Grits” fans to the shorts-and-flip-flops world of the Southern Professional Hockey League. I’ll be your guide into the transition – and culture shock – the north-of-the-Ohio crowd will have when experiencing our unique brand of ice hockey for the first time. I think you are going to like it here, once you walk a mile in our shoes. Evansville is a fantastic hockey city, and you already have some great things going.
First, you still get to enjoy hockey in an absolutely gorgeous building. The Ford Center still has its new arena smell, and it’s far superior to the glorified rec center your dearly departed ECHL team is going to occupy. Not only will you continue to enjoy the amenities of the palace your team will play in, you will enjoy it at a much lower price. SPHL ticket prices are far lower than in the ECHL. If you’re a season ticket holder, expect your ticket cost to drop in half.
Second, you are all part of one of the best fan bases in hockey. Last weekend, despite the imminent departure of your hockey team to some po-dunk town in Kentucky (and I know how you Indiana folks like those Wildcat people), over 7,000 fans still showed up to cheer on the team, which is beyond awesome.
Third, Evansville’s location in SPHL geography is ideal. I hope you folks enjoy road trips, because you’re situated with four teams within a five-hour drive. This is one of the main reasons why our league jumped at the chance to bring you into the fold. You’re going to have some great rivalries with the Peoria Rivermen, Mississippi RiverKings, Huntsville Havoc, and Knoxville Ice Bears. You’re all familiar with Mississippi from back in the CHL days, right?
Like I said earlier, you folks in Evansville are going to be a great addition, and I’m sure y’all are going to enjoy our brand of Southern hospitality. However, there will be some differences between the hockey which you’re used to seeing, and the SPHL experience. I think you’ll be able to work through these little differences, but I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence as your host if I didn’t make mention of them.
First, you’re going to have to get used to seeing those red goals again. The SPHL doesn’t have those crazy corporate sponsorships who insist on changing the hue of our rink paraphernalia.
Next, you’re going to see an entirely new group of players. They’re mostly going to be less experienced and slightly less skilled. Shots won’t be as hard, the pace of the game will be a touch slower, and the passing won’t be as crisp. However, in A-level pro hockey, the SPHL is far superior to the FHL. You will see your players improve and grow before your eyes, and wish them well as they get called up to the ECHL. This year, six SPHL players have spent some time in Evansville and four more who have played in previous SPHL seasons.
It may be tougher to get news on your team. One of the drawbacks of being in the SPHL is the press coverage of the team will be less than the ECHL. Don’t get frustrated because the team which literally sold you up the river will get the bulk of the media coverage. I hope having two professional hockey teams within 30 miles of each other means hockey will remain a media priority in Evansville, which is a benefit of being in a traditional hockey market. However, you may find yourself looking for team news more on social media and websites like The Sin Bin and not television, newspapers, and radio.
Finally, you’re going to be dealing with an entirely new organization which has about ten months to build a professional hockey franchise from scratch. New Evansville owner Mike Hall has an extremely difficult task in front of him, and he will likely not have the kind of operating budget ECHL teams have . Hall’s going to have plenty of guidance from the other SPHL owners, general managers, and coaches; and I hope people in the current ECHL organization are willing to lend a hand in getting this operation running as fast as possible. It will likely be a difficult inaugural season, and I hope you, as fans, stay the course and support this team. I promise you won’t regret it.
I hope I haven’t taken up too much of your time, because we southerners do enjoy a long and relaxing conversation. My friends and I are looking forward to the weekend of October 22nd, as we take the trip north to personally – and properly – welcome y’all to the Southern Professional Hockey League. We love tailgating before hockey games (truth be told, we love tailgating before almost anything), and we’re going to happy to bring the southern hockey experience your way. See y’all in October!