Archive for Rants

It’s A Bittersweet Symphony

This weekend, the Evansville IceMen will play their final two home games at the Ford Center. The IceMen franchise will go dark next season, with the goal of relaunching in Owensboro in 2017-18. Back in Evansville, the 2016-17 season will see the Ford Center welcome a new hockey tenant in the SPHL.

Ever since the news broke that the IceMen would be leaving Evansville after this season, people have been asking me for my take on the situation. As folks have aired their frustrations and chosen sides on Facebook and elsewhere, I’ve pretty much stayed out of the discussion – and that’s no accident.

From the team’s failed arena lease negotiations to the developments in Owensboro to the announcement of the new SPHL franchise, it’s been a messy mix of business and politics that has taken fans on a dramatic and emotional rollercoaster ride. And I do like a good rollercoaster ride – but I prefer the kind you’d find at Holiday World, not the “beloved sports team relocation” variety.

Do not mistake my heretofore silence for indifference or apathy. I simply made a personal decision to avoid dipping my toes in this particular pool, because with a passion-driven issue like this, it’s far too easy to fall in and drown.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I think of Ron Geary or Lloyd Winnecke or Mike Hall, and it doesn’t matter who I think deserves blame or praise. My opinion is irrelevant on this particular matter because this whole issue is a taboo topic akin to religious preferences – debating it is going to accomplish nothing beyond hurting a lot of feelings. Nobody is going to end up on the other side of the fence, and to make matters worse, the fence is going to end up in shambles anyway.

So even if you see me as some sort of “authority” or “expert” when it comes to the IceMen – and, let’s face it, who does, right? – nothing I believe or say is going to change anyone else’s opinion about the matter, and it certainly isn’t going to change the reality of the situation. What’s done is done, like it or not.

My late grandmother always loved that old song that implored folks to “accentuate the positive.” It’s a mentality I’ve always attempted to maintain as I’ve grown older. Sure, I can be a bit negative at times – I’ve taken my fair share of heat for being critical of popular IceMen players over the years – but in general, especially with the “big picture” aspects of life, I try to brush aside the bad and embrace the good.

And even though some may like to think otherwise, the eight-year history of the Evansville IceMen has been FULL of “good.” So as the end draws near, I will choose to focus on some of the many (MANY) fond memories that can never be taken away…

I will always fondly remember watching the puck drop for the franchise’s first game at Swonder, as hundreds of total strangers came together to pack the barn as a budding hockey family for the very first time – and I’ll also never forget the team’s first victory at Swonder on the very next night.

I will always fondly remember sitting in a meeting room at Swonder later that winter with my wife Amanda, Dixie and Steve Halber, Drew and Ashley Campbell, and one or two others who have since gone their separate ways, throwing around ideas for starting up a booster club that would eventually sell thousands of cowbells and provide countless items of need for the IceMen players.

I will always fondly remember the early days of the IceMen family – Brad Perkins finding himself as that crazy cowbell guy (and marrying Tamara on the ice during an intermission at an IceMen game), Preston Rhew donning facepaint and a blue wig and running the Swonder stairs like Rocky, Jennifer Watts developing a serious crush on a certain Swedish player who later sang “Happy Birthday” to her (in Swedish no less) during an episode of “IceMen Live,” Chris Lemon creating a fashion trend all his own by wearing kilts to home games, my old friend Jeff Walker emceeing contests like the entertainment extravaganza that was Musical Chairs On Ice, and, of course, Erica Coy and the Icy Hots starting chants and giving serious hell to anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves in the opposing penalty box.

I will always fondly remember the 24-4 shellacking of the Chicago Blaze on Valentine’s Day 2009, which temporarily gave the IceMen a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame thanks to Kira Hurley’s historic assist.

I will always fondly remember the wild and crazy rivalry with the Chi-Town Shooters – opening face-off fights, bench-clearing brawls, post-game fights, Chi-Town’s Clay Lewis attacking a linesman, Aaron Naphan fighting Shooters coach-turned-player Darren Seid, Seid getting half-naked during a brawl in the Shooters’ barn, the sweet taste of a comeback victory, the even sweeter taste of a shootout victory, and the sweetest taste of a dominant blowout win.

I will always fondly remember spinnin’ the tunes at Swonder and finding great joy in watching folks of all ages smile and laugh and dance and sing, and in seeing those folks go home at the end of the night in a good mood regardless of what the scoreboard said they should be feeling.

I will always fondly remember that cold winter night – December 5, 2009, to be exact – when we were all celebrating Blizzard’s birthday at Swonder and his surprise birthday present was unveiled. Who can forget the one-night-only appearance of Blizzard’s “best friend,” Icy the Saint Bernard?

I will always fondly remember joining Stephen Rickard on WKTG to call the action for the first two playoff games in team history, at Battle Creek at the end of the inaugural season. My feet are still cold!

I will always fondly remember communicating with Stephen and Derick Benigni (and occasionally Bridget McDonald too) over the headsets at Swonder, providing ourselves with our own private little game commentary that so often featured that unmentionable and crude four-word phrase that always made us giggle like schoolboys.

I will always fondly remember Bridget McDonald, without whom the IceMen would have never succeeded. She was the glue that held it all together when it was so often on the brink of falling apart. Anyone who ever enjoyed attending an IceMen game owes her a great debt of gratitude. There’s a reason why she’s the only person the booster club ever gave an award.

I will always fondly remember the team’s second season ending wonderfully with Isaac Coy and Ryan Ford and Aaron Naphan leading the IceMen to the AAHL Davidson Cup Championship at Swonder. It’s somehow fitting that although the franchise moved on to higher leagues and greener pastures, that night will forever remain the final playoff victory in Evansville IceMen history.

I will always fondly remember the IceMen joining the CHL and gaining the Fort Wayne Komets as natural rivals, which enabled me to dust off some long-buried hatred of the orange-and-black that dated back to my childhood in Indianapolis. But I won’t hold it against you if you’re one of those weird people who is actually *gasp* friendly with Komets fans thanks to social media.

I will always fondly remember the franchise’s first game at the Ford Center, a 3-1 victory over those EVIL Komets that featured Josh Beaulieu scoring the first-ever goal in the beautiful new barn. It was amazing to see 8827 fans gather for a hockey game in Evansville to kick off just the fourth season of pro hockey in the market. To this day, seeing the Ford Center packed for a game still gives me goosebumps.

I will always fondly remember that glorious 40-win CHL season, which featured another 3-1 victory over the Komets in front of 9403 fans on “Pack the House Night” and, soon thereafter, Evansville’s first-ever home shutout in the form of a 3-0 blanking of the Komets in front of 9487 Maniacs.

I will always fondly remember the camaraderie of the ever-evolving army of off-ice officials, including my wife Amanda, Derick Benigni, Chad “Beefcake” Burleigh, Lindsay “Call Me” Mabry, “Awkward Dancing Dad Cam” Hall-of-Famer Steve Halber (and occasionally Dixie too), Chris Phillips, Jeff Meisenhelder, Dave and Deanna Tuttle, Jack Howe, Jamie Huff, Dave Huff, John Kells, Linda Freeman, and probably dozens of others who have volunteered their time and talents through the years.

I will always fondly remember fans fighting to get the Canadian flag rightfully reinstalled alongside Old Glory at the Ford Center after it was unceremoniously removed thanks to the complaints of a few ignorant citizens.

I will always fondly remember Tommy Mason morphing from an admittedly green hockey guy into a kinda-sorta seasoned fan who understands the finer points of the game, like the fact that linesmen don’t call penalties. With hard work and a colorful personality, he became “one of us” and an undeniably integral element of IceMen home games. But don’t ever ride on a golf cart he’s driving!

I will always fondly remember pretty much everything Stephen Rickard did while working for the IceMen – even the infamous “dead dog” question. Until earlier this season when some family health issues arose, I was one of only two people (Stephen being the other) who had attended every single home game in the history of the IceMen. Stephen becoming the “last man standing” in that exclusive club was most appropriate, because no one lives and breathes the IceMen quite like him. He is a top-notch human being who absolutely loves what he does, and I am proud to call him a friend. Just don’t ask me about those nights we spent sharing a hotel room in Battle Creek!

I will always fondly remember the two best pre-game hype videos the IceMen ever produced – “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” in 2012-13, and the extended version of “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” that only played once at the 2013-14 home opener.

I will always fondly remember countless on-ice moments from the Ford Center years – Jake Obermeyer’s buzzer-beater with one-tenth of a second left in OT, Wade MacLeod and Nathan Moon both notching hat tricks in the same game, Matt Schepke’s emotional farewell, Cal Heeter sending an opponent flying skates-over-teakettle, the recent St. Patrick’s Day brawl with the Komets…the list could go on and on.

I will always fondly remember so many of the home game promotions – mascot broomball, ear-piercing Education Day games, warm-and-fuzzy Teddy Bear Tosses, explosive New Year’s Eve games, costume-filled Star Wars Nights, hockey fanatic dreams like appearances by the Stanley Cup and “Miracle on Ice” Olympian Dave Christian, emotional nights like Pink the Rink (which hits particularly close to home for me since my mom is a breast cancer survivor)…and again, the list could go on and on.

I will always fondly remember the laughs shared while recording (sorry – pre-living) the IceMen Insights podcasts with Derick Benigni. It began as an unscripted experiment – just a couple of puck-heads hoping to kill about 15 minutes on the radio by talking hockey. Now, we’re approaching the end of our fourth season, with nearly 100 episodes in the can. We’ve always wanted the show to be informative but entertaining, and we just hoped that if we had fun recording it, you’d have fun listening to it. That certainly seems to have been the case, and we thank everyone who’s ever tuned in. If only you could hear some of the things that DIDN’T make it on the air! [BTW: For those who are wondering about the future of IceMenManiacs.com and the IceMen Insights podcasts, please stay tuned. I'll share news as plans for the future become finalized.]

I will always fondly remember, whether it was 900 people at Swonder or 9000 people at the Ford Center, the unmistakable roar of the fans rising in unison and celebrating an IceMen goal. That unbridled joy makes hard-earned hockey goals so wonderfully unique – there’s nothing else like it in sports.

I will always fondly remember the amazing impact the IceMen made on so many people – Anita Ice finding strength in the love and encouragement from “Anita’s Army” during her battle against cancer, Max Shuler and countless kids like him discovering a lifelong passion and building confidence by strapping on skates and playing the sport themselves, Jacob Franklin drawing on the support of his hockey family to grow and mature and start a family in spite of having Asperger’s, Stewart Crichton connecting with Maniacs from an ocean away and actually visiting Evansville from his home in Scotland (!) to see the IceMen in person, the special-needs kids from Spirit Cheer smiling from ear to ear every time they perform during an intermission, Aaron and Melissa Miller (among other couples) meeting at games and subsequently falling in love and tying the knot, and thousands of students soaking in a fantastic and powerful message from Brian Patafie and IceMen players thanks to the “No More Bullies” program.

I will always fondly remember the even more incredible impact the IceMen had on my own family. My wife Amanda became the official scorekeeper on the spot at the very first IceMen home game when the game started and she realized that Stephen Rickard was the only person between the penalty boxes, attempting to announce and control the clock and keep score all at the same time. Nobody asked her to go help him out. She just did it, even though she’d never worked the clock at Swonder or kept a scoresheet for a hockey game at any level, because that’s the kind of person she is. And she kept doing it throughout the team’s entire three-year run at Swonder. Because of our volunteer efforts, Ron Geary graciously included us on the list of people who received personalized championship rings after the IceMen won the AAHL title. We also have a photo of just the two of us holding the Davidson Cup on the ice at Swonder after the deciding game, and it still hangs on the wall in our living room to this day. Less than two weeks before the IceMen moved downtown to the Ford Center, we welcomed our son Evan into the world. He attended his first IceMen game before he was a month old, accidentally head-butted the Stanley Cup as an infant, and now he’s an energetic four-year old who loves all things hockey because, in large part, he’s been to all but about a dozen home games since he was born.

So I will always fondly remember the priceless moments, big and small, many of which have nothing to do with the game itself, that the IceMen have allowed us to share with our son – moments that make a hockey-crazed father fight back happy tears while recalling and typing out for this story. Running all over every square inch of the building and saying hi to everyone he recognizes (which is a LARGE percentage of the people at most games), riding the escalator and “racing” his disadvantaged daddy who’s stuck huffing up the adjacent stairs, high-fiving John the elevator attendant and politely requesting the proper floor before making small talk with him on the ride up, exchanging fist-bumps with Lindsay Mabry in the press box before every game, yelling “LET’S GO ICE MENNNNN” with Stephen, adorably ordering his own popcorn and getting even the most grizzled concession worker to smile, standing for the anthem and joining me in doing the “hockey player shuffle” as we rock back and forth together, exuding pure excitement at seeing the Zambonis, dancing to the power-play song, singing along with “The Good Old Hockey Game,” yelling “FIGHT” every time someone drops the gloves, providing us with frequent scoreboard updates just in case we forgot what the score was from 13 seconds ago, crying when the ZOOperstars run into each other and fall down because he just hates seeing anyone be hurt, scanning the crowd to find Rickard during every media timeout, saying “thanks Tommy” when there’s one minute left in the period, and hugging Blizzard…boy, does he sure love Blizzard…


If you’re reading this, you surely have individual memories like mine. Lots of IceMen memories are special, but it’s those most intimate personal moments – when IceMen hockey and your life became so beautifully intertwined – that are to be truly cherished.

I’ve often told disgruntled fans that a bad night at the rink is still better than a good night anywhere else. Sure, there have been some absolute clunkers – more than any of us would prefer – but hockey is a lot like pizza. Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty damn good. And despite all of the losses and disappointments, despite the way it’s all coming to an end, the past eight seasons of IceMen hockey have indeed been pretty damn good.

You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative…

IceMen Insights Podcast #306:
Some Fans Are Just Crazy

Next Show: Wed. Nov. 19

Among the analysis and nonsense in this week’s episode…

Derick and I discuss Education Day, Myles Bell and Matia Marcantuoni netting hat tricks in the same game, back-to-back losses against Toledo and Orlando, the departures of Cal Heeter and Patrick Kennedy, and the past week of IceMen transactions.

Topics of conversation also include Derick’s return to the radio broadcast booth, the Education Day jersey auction, different schools of thought with regard to minor-league promotions, a famous second-generation referee working at the Ford Center, friendship and friction between the Senators and Leafs, and the next week of IceMen games.

Plus: “Real Men of Genius” and “The Maniac Asylum Lunatic of the Week” return, a little Maniac with “IceMen Tourette’s,” cold feet (literally), another speculative medical diagnosis from Doctor Dirty D, Booster Club news and notes, and a patriotic song of the week!

To download and listen (MP3 format), simply click below!

Episode 306 – Nov. 12, 2014 (1:15:24 – 69 MB)

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About the Show

“IceMen Insights” is produced by IceMenManiacs.com, offering IceMen fans a FREE regular podcast about IceMen hockey. Airing weekly (as schedules allow) during the season and also occasionally during the off-season, the show is hosted by former IceMen play-by-play broadcaster Derick “The Mouth of the IceMen” Benigni and IceMenManiacs.com Webmaster and Senior Writer Michael “Shocker” Shockley.

The “IceMen Insights” podcast is offered exclusively right here on IceMenManiacs.com. The show is generally recorded on Tuesday evening and made available for FREE download on Wednesday afternoon, typically by 5 PM (CT). It originally airs on WYIR (96.9 FM) and WYIR.com at 1 PM on Wednesdays, with the podcast version posted on IceMenManiacs.com within a few hours after the on-air broadcast’s conclusion. Each podcast is presented in MP3 format and should play fine on virtually any computer, laptop, tablet, or portable MP3 player.

Visit our Podcast, Video, Photos & More page for more information about the show, details about how you can make comments about or submit questions for the show, and a complete archive of past “IceMen Insights” episodes and comedy bits.

IceMen Insights Podcast #205:
Too Hot For Radio

Next Scheduled Broadcast: Dec. 4

The IceMen have earned at least a point in 7 straight games, and “IceMen Insights” is hot too – so hot that this week’s episode didn’t even air on the radio! But exclusively here on IceMenManiacs.com, we’ve got nearly 2 hours of fresh analysis and nonsense for your listening pleasure…

Derick and I discuss last weekend’s entertaining games against Orlando, controversial calls in Saturday’s game, Tuesday’s improved performance at Cincinnati, Jeremy Langlois’ talent, Jacob Johnston’s potential, Garrett Bartus’ debut, Allen York’s future, shootout failures, fixing the power play, and Dylan Clarke’s injury.

This week’s topics also include the Josh Beaulieu bobbleheads, military tributes, Soupy’s luchador name, the Kiss Cam, the return of Brad Perkins, the ECHL’s imminent arrival in Indy, Fill The Bus for the Tri-State Food Bank, another Skate Down Memory Lane, our weekly update on The Birds and The BJs, the Orthopaedic Associates Injury & Transaction Report, and a look ahead at upcoming IceMen games.

In “Overtime,” Derick again takes us behind the scenes – the pronunciation of “Beaulieu,” timing issues in Cincinnati, technical difficulties and dead air, double entendres on the radio, and a bird in the arena. We also talk about the Military Appreciation Night jersey auction, Nazem Kadri’s suspension, the Nashville Predators and the future of Barry Trotz, and the recent struggles of the Detroit Red Wings.

Plus: The real reason why this episode is online-only, Derick giving Soupy mouth-to-mouth, deuces and doo-doo, tangling truculently, Shocker is the “Maniac Asylum Lunatic of the Week,” stupid team names, Canadian beer, Fedor Tyutin, the players’ prank on Derick, metrosexual hockey, verbal typos, the Harlem Globetrotters, Nickelback, playin’ with beavers, John Reichart, Jose Vazquez, signing autographs, Derick is a spitter, making kids cry, Tweets and quotes a-plenty, curling, drunks, atrocious Russian accents, Derick gets fined, and broken penises!

To download and listen (MP3 format), simply click below!

Episode 205 with OT – Nov. 21, 2013 (1:57:02 – 107 MB)

“Overtime” Bonus Segment Only (44:37 – 41 MB)

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About the Show

“IceMen Insights” is produced by IceMenManiacs.com and “Wired” 96.9 FM (Evansville’s WYIR), offering IceMen fans a FREE regular podcast about IceMen hockey. Airing weekly (as schedules allow) during the season and also occasionally during the off-season, the show is hosted by IceMen play-by-play broadcaster Derick “Dirty D” Benigni and IceMenManiacs.com Webmaster and Senior Writer Michael “Shocker” Shockley.

“IceMen Insights” is generally recorded on Tuesdays and originally airs as part of WYIR’s “Amusement Park,” a fun-filled show featuring hockey talk and arena rock that airs from Noon to approximately 2:30 or 3:00 PM (CT) each Wednesday on 96.9 FM in Evansville and online worldwide at WiredWiredWired.com. The stream can also be accessed on virtually any computer or mobile device via TuneIn.com or the TuneIn radio app – just search for WYIR!

The “IceMen Insights” segment usually airs at 1:00 PM and typically lasts 45-60 minutes (give or take), and is then made available on IceMenManiacs.com on Wednesday afternoon after the completion of the “Amusement Park” on WYIR. The online edition also includes a podcast-exclusive bonus segment called “Overtime,” featuring inside scoop from IceMen headquarters, straight from “The Mouth of the IceMen” himself.

Visit our Podcast, Video, Photos & More page for a complete archive of “IceMen Insights” episodes. The podcasts are presented in MP3 format and should play fine on virtually any computer, laptop, tablet, or portable MP3 player.

Feel free to shoot Shocker an e-mail (send it to stormfreak44@yahoo.com and put “IceMen Insights” in the subject line) if you have any comments or questions about the show, suggestions for topics of discussion, or questions you’d like us to answer during the next episode. You can also drop us a line on Facebook via Derick’s page or Shocker’s page. In addition, fans are welcome to chime in over on the Maniac Message Board!

We would like to thank the fine folks at Orthopaedic Associates for joining us as a sponsor for Season 2. Orthopaedic Associates is the official orthopaedic care provider for the IceMen. They offer walk-in orthopaedic urgent care at their offices in Evansville, Newburgh and Henderson. For more information, visit OAEvansville.com.

IceMen Insights Podcast #204:
Building Character & Camaraderie

Next Scheduled Broadcasts: Nov. 21 & Dec. 4

The IceMen are flying high at 6-1-1, and after a week off, “IceMen Insights” is back with two weeks’ worth of analysis and nonsense crammed into a two-hour show…

Derick and I discuss the ugly 7-0 home loss to Cincinnati, bouncing back with big wins over Toledo and Fort Wayne, the team’s successful trip to South Carolina, strong play by a pair of Matts (Krug and Lowry), unselfish moves by Daultan Leveille and Patrick Kennedy, healthy scratches, and the controversy surrounding Allen York’s lackluster performance against the Cyclones.

This week’s topics also include Derick’s initial thoughts on Jeremy Langlois and Jacob Johnston, players wanting to play for Coach Pyle, starting slow but finishing strong, Craig MacDonald’s EBUG experience, Matt Gens’ retirement, an update on Trent Vogelhuber, pulling the goalie REALLY early, Fill The Bus for the Tri-State Food Bank, another Skate Down Memory Lane, our weekly update on The Birds and The BJs, the Orthopaedic Associates Injury & Transaction Report, and a look ahead at the next week of IceMen games.

In “Overtime,” our new podcast-exclusive bonus segment, Derick again takes us behind the scenes – life on the bus during the South Carolina trip, team discussions about Richie Incognito and hazing in sports, team togetherness, domestic violence at IHOP, observations about the Stingrays’ barn, Pyle wanting to shake things up, and Spanish commercials on WEOA. We also talk about expectations of the IceMen fans, how “The 3 Stars of the Game” are determined, Ilya Bryzgalov signing with the Oilers, Steven Stamkos’ broken leg, Alex Steen’s hot start for the Blues, and the ECHL “Fantasy Team” voting. (Note: If you’ve already listened to the on-air portion of the show, “Overtime” by itself is available below as a separate download.)

Plus: Giving “Soupy” a luchador name, Derick honors his own “Maniac Asylum Lunatic(s) of the Week,” Stephen Rickard’s adult film, Neil Diamond, workin’ the five-hole, Derick is hung like a toddler, talking like drill sergeants, the “Karo Kid,” Brian Patafie is old, diphthongs and cunning linguists, Derick is psychic, cops and donuts, The Rock, Valtteri Filppula, Derick’s calendar snafu, Justin Bieber, camo jerseys, another Education Day, Derick sings a remix of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” spooning with Patafie, the “Fan Zam,” and IceMen bobbleheads!

To download and listen (MP3 format), simply click below!

Episode 204 with OT – Nov. 13, 2013 (2:09:59 – 119 MB)

“Overtime” Bonus Segment Only (59:45 – 55 MB)

*  *  *  *  *  *  *
About the Show

“IceMen Insights” is produced by IceMenManiacs.com and “Wired” 96.9 FM (Evansville’s WYIR), offering IceMen fans a FREE regular podcast about IceMen hockey. Airing weekly (as schedules allow) during the season and also occasionally during the off-season, the show is hosted by IceMen play-by-play broadcaster Derick “Dirty D” Benigni and IceMenManiacs.com Webmaster and Senior Writer Michael “Shocker” Shockley.

“IceMen Insights” is generally recorded on Tuesdays and originally airs as part of WYIR’s “Amusement Park,” a fun-filled show featuring hockey talk and arena rock that airs from Noon to approximately 2:30 or 3:00 PM (CT) each Wednesday on 96.9 FM in Evansville and online worldwide at WiredWiredWired.com. The stream can also be accessed on virtually any computer or mobile device via TuneIn.com or the TuneIn radio app – just search for WYIR!

The “IceMen Insights” segment usually airs at 1:00 PM and typically lasts 45-60 minutes (give or take), and is then made available on IceMenManiacs.com on Wednesday afternoon after the completion of the “Amusement Park” on WYIR. The online edition also includes a podcast-exclusive bonus segment called “Overtime,” featuring inside scoop from IceMen headquarters, straight from “The Mouth of the IceMen” himself.

Visit our Podcast, Video, Photos & More page for a complete archive of “IceMen Insights” episodes. The podcasts are presented in MP3 format and should play fine on virtually any computer, laptop, tablet, or portable MP3 player.

Feel free to shoot Shocker an e-mail (send it to stormfreak44@yahoo.com and put “IceMen Insights” in the subject line) if you have any comments or questions about the show, suggestions for topics of discussion, or questions you’d like us to answer during the next episode. You can also drop us a line on Facebook via Derick’s page or Shocker’s page. In addition, fans are welcome to chime in over on the Maniac Message Board!

We would like to thank the fine folks at Orthopaedic Associates for joining us as a sponsor for Season 2. Orthopaedic Associates is the official orthopaedic care provider for the IceMen. They offer walk-in orthopaedic urgent care at their offices in Evansville, Newburgh and Henderson. For more information, visit OAEvansville.com.

One Candle: The Best of the First Year of IceMenManiacs.com

Yesterday (June 1) marked the one-year anniversary of IceMenManiacs.com, believe it or not! A year ago, Dixie and I threw this site together in a matter of days after the IceMen organization opted to start using On-Site Computer Solutions for designing and maintaining the team’s official website.

We weren’t entirely sure what we’d do with it, to be honest. We knew that we wanted the Booster Club to have a presence on the web, and we knew we’d embed a blog into the site as a centerpiece. Beyond that, it was essentially a work-in-progress from Day One.

Fast-forward a year. We’ve syndicated some of our content on a national hockey website (more on that below), the ECHL has used our exclusive seat count as the Ford Center’s official capacity (9437) on ECHL.com (click the IceMen logo to see it), we’ve had our work referenced by mainstream newspapers (such as both the Journal Gazette and News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne), and we’ve been linked by a pair of major national hockey blogs (the incomparable Icethetics.info jersey/logo blog and SB Nation’s Nashville Predators blog, OnTheForecheck.com).

And all along the way, we’ve piled up thousands of hits and established ourselves as the best place on the web for Evansville IceMen analysis. We’re not a “news” site, but we do take a deeper look at key IceMen developments and give you coverage of the team that you won’t find anywhere else. Plus, we’ve got plenty of helpful “static” content that’s always available for your reference as well.

It’s been a wild year. We know it flew by for us, and it probably did for you as well. So in case you missed some of our best work over the past year, here’s a look back at some of our favorite posts from Year One of IceMenManiacs.com. They’re listed chronologically, and you can just click the links to see the full stories.

We thank you SO MUCH for your support over the past year, and we look forward to many more years to come. We’re just getting started!

ICEMENMANIACS.COM – HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR FIRST YEAR

“Stalemate” soon to be “Checkmate” (8-5-2011)
This was our first real “meaty” piece for the site. It was an exclusive analysis of what was holding up the team’s negotiations with the city for a fair lease at the Ford Center, what the possible results were, and why a deal would be in place soon. And as I predicted, a deal was finalized less than a week later…

Going Downtown: Inside the Deal (8-13-2011)
An in-depth look at the contract the IceMen signed with the City of Evansville as the Ford Center’s hockey tenant. Everything fans might want to know about the franchise’s lease is covered here!

A weekend in Bloomington: The 2011 CHL Booster Club Convention (8-14-2011)
Dixie’s recap (with photos) of her time in Bloomington for the 2011 edition of the CHL’s annual gathering of team booster club leaders. She even got to sit on their Zamboni.

The Sane Side of Darren Seid (9-2-2011)
An interesting trip back to the AAHL days of the IceMen, and a surprising revelation about one of the league’s most polarizing figures. A must-read for any fan who experienced the first two rocky seasons at Swonder.

IceMenManiacs.com Goes National! (9-29-2011)
Less than 4 months after our site was created, we agreed to a content-sharing partnership with ProHockeyNews.com, a major national hockey website that covers a bunch of different leagues. The folks at PHN liked what they’d seen during our first few months of action, so they asked us to cover the IceMen for them. We still get to publish our PHN submissions right here on our own site too, and this link includes our first story for them – a look at how the IceMen roster was developing as training camp approached.

Saturday, November 5, 2011: A Special Night in Evansville (11-18-2011)
My favorite piece from our first year – a rather poetic recap of the IceMen home opener at the Ford Center, primarily focused on the atmosphere of the evening. If you weren’t there that night or if you were there but just want to re-live those memories, please give this one a look!

Merger would give AA more juice (12-2-2011)
Chewing on a topic that’s long been a popular discussion among minor league hockey fans. Even though the IceMen are now in the ECHL, I still maintain that the ECHL and CHL need to merge if they truly want “Double-A” hockey to prosper.

Inside the IceMen: PA Announcer Tommy Mason (1-10-2012)
The first in an occasional series about those who make IceMen home games happen, starting with new PA Announcer Tommy Mason. For those who may be wondering, the second in this series has been written and will probably be published at some point this summer when there’s a lack of IceMen news to discuss.

How Many Seats? (2-16-2012)
Tired of rounded estimates, I took it upon myself to count the seats at the Ford Center. Now we know exactly how many folks can “officially” cram into the arena for an IceMen game. And now, the ECHL even uses the IceMenManiacs.com tally as its listed capacity for the facility!

What’s In A Name? (3-21-2012)
The “IceMen” name once meant nothing. Now, to the Maniacs at least, it means everything – and then some.

IceMen face stiff playoff test against Missouri (3-26-2012)
Our first crack at a playoff series preview. I hoped I’d be wrong, but I predicted a first-round exit for the IceMen due largely to red-hot Missouri goaltender Charlie Effinger, and that unfortunately turned out to be spot-on.

IceMen season ends with a “thud” (4-3-2012)
Wrapping up the first (and now guaranteed to be the only) CHL playoff series in IceMen history. What went wrong? It all started on Leap Day…

Accentuate the Positive: Looking Back at the 2011-2012 IceMen Season (4-12-2012)
Early playoff exit aside, it was a very successful season for the IceMen, both on and off the ice. An in-depth look at stats, awards, attendance, and a number of other interesting factoids about the team’s first season at the Ford Center.

Hockey and Hashtags: How Social Media Makes the IceMen/Komets Rivalry Unique (5-8-2012)
Tailgating with the enemy? It’s not unthinkable anymore. In fact, it’s a reality in hockey’s first Facebook-fueled rivalry!

Evansville IceMen Moving to the ECHL; IceMenManiacs.com’s “ECHL 101″ Primer (5-17-2012)
You all knew that the IceMen were going to the ECHL, long before it was officially announced. Check out our ECHL primer and you’ll know lots of other stuff about the ECHL too.

Hockey and Hashtags: How Social Media
Makes the IceMen/Komets Rivalry Unique

Yankees and Red Sox. Packers and Bears. Red Wings and Blackhawks.

Rivalries in sports develop for many reasons. Geographic proximity, frequency of head-to-head competition, heated moments during play, battles for championships.

They are not made overnight. It takes time to build a history and cultivate a true rivalry. Time may heal all wounds, but it also allows rivals to inflict more wounds.

Founded in 1952, the Fort Wayne Komets are one of minor league hockey’s most historic franchises. Only the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears have continually competed in the same city for a longer period of time. The Komets have won over 2300 regular season games, claimed 9 league playoff championships, retired 12 jersey numbers, and routinely finished near the top of all minor leagues in average attendance.

In their 60 years of existence, the Komets have established many rivalries. Teams in Saginaw and Flint have come and gone through the years. The Kalamazoo Wings still exist but currently do not play in the same professional league. The Indianapolis Ice and Muskegon Lumberjacks have been replaced by junior teams.

These days, one of Fort Wayne’s top rivals is the Evansville IceMen – a franchise that has existed for just 4 seasons, and only 2 in the same league as the Komets.

Although Evansville lacks the type of hockey history that Fort Wayne boasts, the IceMen immediately became a rival for the Komets when the teams began meeting on the ice during the 2010-2011 season.

It certainly didn’t hurt that the IceMen moved up to “Double-A” by officially taking over the defunct Lumberjacks professional franchise, complete with a coach and several players who already developed plenty of bad blood with the Komets while in Muskegon.

But beyond the inherited heat from the old Komets/Lumberjacks rivalry, IceMen/Komets was just a natural fit. As Indiana’s second and third largest cities, Fort Wayne and Evansville carry the proverbial torch for pro hockey in the Hoosier State.

(Indianapolis, the state’s capital and largest city, has not had a pro hockey team since the Ice switched from the Central Hockey League to the United States Hockey League in 2004. Excluding the Sun Belt, Indianapolis is the most populous city in either the United States or Canada that is not currently home to a professional hockey team at any level.)

Evansville and Fort Wayne are separated by less than 300 miles “as the crow flies.” As a result, the IceMen and Komets have met early and often during their brief time together.

The teams squared off 11 times during the 2010-2011 season, and 13 times during the 2011-2012 season. The latter season even began with the IceMen and Komets meeting in both teams’ home openers.

The series has been rather balanced on the scoreboard, with both teams enjoying their fair share of success. In the 24 meetings so far, Fort Wayne has won 13 and Evansville has emerged victorious in 11.

And when you combine competitive balance with frequent meetings, then sprinkle in a bit of long-term hatred between some of those involved, you get some nasty hockey. During the 2011-2012 season, the Komets and IceMen combined to earn 629 penalty minutes (more than 48 per game), rack up 53 fighting majors (over 4 per contest), and compile 9 game misconducts for good measure.

As you might expect, the on-ice bitterness has produced sweet results at the ticket window for both franchises. During the 2011-2012 season, the Komets attracted 14% more fans for Evansville games (8654) compared to all other opponents (7574), while the IceMen drew a whopping 41% more for Fort Wayne games (6327) compared to the rest (4494).

Evansville’s only two sellouts, along with the season’s third-largest home crowd, were all for games against the Komets. And two of Fort Wayne’s three largest crowds, including one of the Komets’ two sellouts, were for games against the IceMen.

Several times, large groups of fans hit the road to support their team in the rival’s “barn.” That in itself is not particularly unusual, even in the minors.

What is unusual, however, is what happens when the teams’ fans find themselves in the same place at the same time.

On the ice, the IceMen/Komets rivalry has rapidly developed into something fierce. But off the ice, it’s surprisingly, well, friendly.

Friendly? How can fans of true rivals be – gasp – FRIENDLY?!

The answer is simple: Social Media.

The St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs have been rivals on the diamond since 1885. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens first begrudgingly shared the ice in 1917. The New York Giants and Washington Redskins first clashed on the gridiron in 1932.

Those rivalries, along with many others, are deeply rooted in history. They are quite literally “seasoned” by numerous seasons of play. Their depth is measured not in years, but in decades. Fans have passed on the hatred from generation to generation.

And they were all well-established rivalries long before home computers became common in the 1980s, the Internet exploded in the 1990s, and “social media” changed the way we communicate following the turn of the century.

Fifty years ago, a New York Rangers fan probably would have thought that a “blog” was something he could use to hit a Boston Bruins fan in the head.

While the battles between Fort Wayne and Evansville are very much becoming like a “traditional” rivalry on the ice, the off-ice side of the IceMen/Komets rivalry is unique because of the timing of its inception.

It is, quite possibly, the first pro hockey rivalry to be born and fostered during “The Facebook Era.”

Because of social media and its 24/7 nature, many of the teams’ most devoted fans are on a first-name basis – both within their own camps and “across enemy lines.” The anonymity is gone, replaced by a heaping helping of humanity. Also gone? The ease of developing a healthy hatred for the unfamiliar opposition.

That lady wearing the other team’s jersey is not just a mysterious fan of your fierce rival. She’s also a mom, a sister, a school teacher, an amateur photographer, and a fan of “The Big Bang Theory.” Also, she willingly shares her family’s “secret” recipe for a killer chicken pot pie, which you quickly tried out yourself because, well, you LIKE chicken pot pie. And you loved her recipe.

That guy wearing the other team’s hat is no longer merely a random supporter of the hockey team you hate. He’s also a husband, an uncle, a firefighter, a “car guy,” and the self-professed King of Trivia. Of course, you know you could beat him if you sat down together at the local watering hole and went head-to-head in Buzztime. And someday, you plan on doing just that.

Facebook has allowed each team’s fans to develop a tight-knit community in ways that were not possible in the past. It has also allowed fans to “mingle” with rivals away from the rink year-round. Many IceMen fans are members of “The Internet Jungle,” a Komets fan group. Likewise, a number of Komets fans are members of the “Maniac Asylum,” an IceMen fan group.

Together, fans of the IceMen and Komets truly put the “social” in “social media” during the 2011-2012 season. They used Facebook to organize pre-game tailgate parties (complete with street hockey games), set up “loser must wear the other team’s face paint at a future game” bets (and share photos of the loser “paying up”), and plan post-game gatherings at sports bars – including toasts “to Hoosier hockey!”

In an unscientific Facebook poll, nearly one-third (28%) of IceMen fans even said they were rooting for the Komets in the 2012 CHL playoffs after Evansville had been eliminated. And when the Komets claimed the championship, many “IceMen Maniacs” – including some who refused to actually “root” for the Komets – flocked to Facebook to offer their congratulations to the Fort Wayne faithful.

This cordial coexistence is not simply a product of Indiana’s famous “Hoosier Hospitality,” either. The state’s most famous college sports rivalry, that between the Indiana Hoosiers and Purdue Boilermakers, is anything but friendly. Whether in football or basketball or swimming or tennis, die-hard fans of one will never root for the other. Even mentioning such a preposterous idea would likely be grounds for immediate dismissal from campus.

No, the friendly nature of Hoosier hockey – at least, off the ice – is largely due to social media. How ironic that a mode of communication often deemed “too impersonal” has actually made rival fans seem so personable!

Thanks to social media, fans can really get to know other folks who follow their favorite team, creating a closer bond and an enriched fan base. And also thanks to social media, fans can stumble upon a startling reality – you actually kinda like some of the people who just happen to root for another hockey team.

The IceMen/Komets rivalry is admittedly still in its infancy. Over time, more on-ice incidents and high-stakes post-season meetings will surely add fuel to the fire. And when that happens, fans of the teams will likely stoke the flames on Facebook or Twitter or whatever else serves as the preferred online gathering place of the day.

And then they’ll figure out when and where they can meet to start a real fire and have a party. As long as somebody brings marshmallows – the jumbo ones, of course. Roast them long enough and they make great hockey pucks.

Holiday homestand is key for slumping IceMen

Written for ProHockeyNews.com and re-published with permission.
(Click the link to view the story on PHN.)

The Evansville IceMen have encountered a few bumps in the road so far this season, but none as bad as their current rough patch.

The IceMen started the season 6-0-1, the last team in the Central Hockey League to suffer a regulation loss. That defeat came on November 17, a 5-2 loss at home against the Fort Wayne Komets. Evansville quickly rebounded with back-to-back wins against the Missouri Mavericks.

Thanksgiving weekend, the IceMen went to Rapid City and dropped 2 of 3 against the Rush. They were then handed a surprising 6-2 defeat at the hands of the last-place Bloomington Blaze on December 1. But again, Evansville turned things around by registering 3 straight victories.

However, the team’s latest skid has been even longer and more troubling. Just 1-3-1 in their last 5 games, the IceMen have been passed by red-hot Fort Wayne for the Turner Conference lead – and the hated Komets have been responsible for all 3 of Evansville’s most recent regulation losses.

The weekend of December 16-18 was Evansville’s first weekend without a victory. It was capped by a demoralizing 4-3 overtime loss at home against the Mavericks, in which Missouri trailed with just 10 seconds remaining in regulation.

How the IceMen respond next will play a large role in determining the ultimate success or failure of this season’s Evansville squad.

The IceMen enjoyed a lengthy stay atop the Turner Conference standings and still only trail Fort Wayne by 3 points, but also now find themselves just 4 points ahead of 6th-place Dayton. With only the Top 4 teams in each conference qualifying for the CHL playoffs, there is little margin for error.

Thankfully for Evansville, the IceMen (13-7-2) have a chance to turn things around in their own backyard as the holidays come and go and the calendar turns to 2012. The team’s next five games are on home ice, and only one of them is against the suddenly “unbeatable” Komets (15-7-1).

The IceMen also host the Texas Brahmas (13-8-5), Dayton Gems (10-10-4), Wichita Thunder (17-7-0) and Quad City Mallards (13-10-1). Each opponent is at or above .500, so there are no “easy” games in Evansville’s immediate future – but at least they’ll be contested in the “friendly confines” of the Ford Center.

This homestand carries extra importance due to the schedule that follows it. The IceMen will play 13 games in January, including a stretch with 9 games in 16 calendar days after the CHL All-Star break. The team will then squeeze a whopping 15 games into February, including a pair of stints with 4 games in 5 days. And as the regular season winds down in March, 7 of Evansville’s final 9 games will be played on the road.

If the IceMen are to get back to their winning ways soon, their veterans must lead the charge. Captain Todd Robinson and Alternate Captain Philippe Plante, the team’s two oldest players, have not played well during the current skid. Robinson has just 2 assists and is an atrocious -10 in the 5-game stretch; Plante has 2 goals in that timeframe, but is -3 and was whistled for a late penalty in both of Evansville’s two most recent home losses, with each infraction leading to the opposition’s game-winning power-play goal.

Evansville must also get improved play from its goaltenders. Starter Pier-Olivier Pelletier and rookie backup Bryan Gillis have together been one of the team’s strengths this season, but neither has looked sharp recently. Both Pelletier and Gillis have surrendered 9 total goals in their last 2 starts. The netminders must return to their early-season form if the IceMen wish to remain at or near the top of the Turner Conference.

In addition, IceMen General Manager and Head Coach Rich Kromm can’t be afraid of shaking things up. A lackadaisical player like Nicklas Lindberg, who somehow has 21 points in 21 games despite putting forth questionable effort that has drawn the ire of Evansville fans, must be held accountable for his spiritless play. And a player like Matt Pierce, who has played with admirable energy and scored more goals (7) than Lindberg (5) despite enjoying considerably less ice time while toiling on the team’s third forward line, should be rewarded for his efforts and given a larger role.

In general, the IceMen must reestablish their physical edge, rediscover their collective passion, and rekindle their chemistry. The talent is certainly present, as evidenced by the team’s hot start. The current problem is primarily mental, and IceMen fans must hope the team’s recent funk is just a temporary case of the blues, not the start of a lengthy depression.

The 2011-2012 CHL season began with much promise for the Evansville IceMen, and it can still end up being a very successful campaign. But for that to be the case, the IceMen must take full advantage of this 5-game homestand and come away with at least 7 or 8 of the possible 10 points in the standings.

If they don’t, this bump in the road could very well turn into a giant sinkhole, from which the IceMen may not be able to escape.

Merger would give AA more juice

In the summer of 2010, the Central Hockey League and the International Hockey League entered into a two-year “collaboration” agreement. Never officially called a “merger,” the deal resulted in both leagues’ teams playing together under the CHL banner for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons.

Now in the midst of the second of the two collaborative seasons, fans are naturally turning an eye toward the future and wondering what might happen next. An extension of the agreement is not guaranteed by any means, but also cannot be completely ruled out.

Although not confirmed or announced by any league or team officials, many observers seem to expect that the leagues will choose to go their separate ways after this season, with the IHL reorganizing as a separate entity and perhaps returning to past markets such as Flint and Port Huron.

And that, hockey fans, is precisely the opposite of what needs to happen.

Not only should the CHL and IHL remain together, but the combined league’s leaders should aggressively pursue a full-fledged merger with the ECHL.

Yes, there are some rather large barriers to such a deal, including the issues of player unions and NHL affiliations. But if all of the involved parties wish to remain in business long-term, they must find a way to get on the same page and pull everyone under the same umbrella.

The “Double-A” hockey world has 34 teams this season, down substantially from just a handful of seasons ago. During the 2004-2005 season, there were 59 franchises at this level – the ECHL fielded 28 teams, the CHL was home to 17, and the United Hockey League (before it adopted the IHL name) had 14 teams.

Gone are suburban teams from major markets such as Detroit, Memphis and St. Louis. Many franchises, from Sun Belt cities like Corpus Christi to traditional hockey strongholds like Muskegon, have departed for the supposedly greener pastures of junior hockey. Some short-lived franchises have come and gone in the blink of an eye.

Minor professional hockey leagues are notoriously unstable. They always have been and they likely always will be. Hockey is an expensive sport, and revenue streams in the minors are built around ticket sales and primarily-local corporate sponsorships. There is no lucrative Reebok jersey contract, no multi-million dollar Budweiser “official beer of the league” sponsorship, no national television deal that yields a financial windfall for every team.

It has often been said that the fastest way for a billionaire to become a millionaire is to start a minor-league hockey team.

You see, it’s funny because it’s true.

And in reality, most team owners realize this. They have built their fortunes in other business ventures, and owning a hockey team is largely a fun footnote in their portfolio. They don’t expect to make money; they simply want to field a competitive team and win a championship or two, all while somehow managing to avoid losing TOO much cash.

Turn a profit? Yeah, right. Break even? Often a best-case scenario. Lose a few hundred thousand each year? That’s the most likely outcome, when all things go relatively smoothly. But hey, it’s still a fun play-toy and you can write off a lot of stuff on your taxes!

So how do these deep-pocketed owners give themselves the best shot at minimizing their losses and maybe – just maybe – sniff the break-even point? How can the disturbing “bleed cash until the owner throws his hands up and calls it a day” trend be slowed down? How can the future of “Double-A” hockey be solidified so that fans still have teams to cheer for in 10 or 20 years?

Many expenses are going to be consistent under virtually any circumstances. Ice time, both for home games and team practices, is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination. Equipment can cost a small fortune, as anyone who has ever played hockey or parented a youth hockey player can attest to. Player and staff salaries are essentially uniform across-the-board. Medical expenses are just part of the game, like it or not.

What CAN be controlled? Travel expenses. Those extra overnights and additional hours on the bus, well, they add up in a hurry.

Consider this: The Evansville IceMen recently spent their Thanksgiving weekend in Rapid City, South Dakota. That excursion is about 2200 miles, round-trip. If the team bus averages 6 miles per gallon and diesel fuel is $4 per gallon, that equates to a fuel cost of more than $1400 for a single three-game trip. Add in the cost of a few nights in a hotel for about 20 people, and you’re likely over $3000. You could make 5 or 6 up-and-back trips to Kalamazoo for less.

The ECHL currently consists of 20 teams, with a pair of expansion teams (San Francisco and Orlando) expected to join the fray for the 2012-2013 season. The league’s name has been an orphan initialism since 2003, when the full “East Coast Hockey League” name was officially dropped after the league absorbed the remnants of the West Coast Hockey League.

Now jokingly referred to as the “Each Coast Hockey League” by some fans, the ECHL stretches from Alaska to Florida and from Pennsylvania to California. However, before this season’s addition of the expansion Chicago Express, the league did not possess a single franchise located in the Central Time Zone.

Filling that large gap is the CHL, which now has 14 teams in the Mountain, Central and Eastern Time Zones. Among the league’s franchises is the Arizona Sundogs, whose closest CHL opponent is the Wichita Thunder – 997 miles away, according to Google Maps. Next season, the ECHL will field 8 teams closer to Arizona than Wichita.

Below is a map with all 36 of the expected 2012-2013 “Double-A” cities plotted on it. The blue dots represent CHL cities, and the red dots represent ECHL cities…


Makes loads of sense, doesn’t it?

Now let’s take those same 36 cities and merge the leagues together. They fit nicely into two 18-team conferences, further split into four 9-team divisions. Included are the metropolitan areas for each team…


And just for grins and giggles, let’s tweak the dotted map’s colors to show the proposed realignment. Fuchsia represents the Pacific Division, green dots are for the Central Division, blue represents the Midwest Division, and the Atlantic Division is red…


Obviously, the Alaska Aces will experience and create travel troubles as long as they remain in a league that is otherwise comprised of teams in the Continental United States.

But with the exception of Alaska, every other team in the merged league would have at least one opponent within 350 driving miles. (The most-distant “closest opponent” scenarios would involve Rapid City with Colorado and Idaho with Utah, each a separation of about 345 miles.)

The league could play a balanced 68-game schedule, with each team having 34 home dates. Every team would play each divisional opponent 4 times (2 home and 2 road) and each in-conference out-of-division opponent 2 times (1 home and 1 road). Each team would also play every out-of-conference team 1 time – all 9 teams in one division on the road, and all 9 teams from the other division at home.

The amount of travel would be as fair and comparable as possible, while keeping costs as low as is logically feasible. Fans would also get to enjoy a nice variety of visiting teams on home ice, with 26 of the 35 possible opponents appearing each season.

The playoff format would be a simple 16-team tournament. The Top 4 teams from each division would qualify, with the division champions slotted as the 1st and 2nd seeds in each conference.

Is this the perfect scenario for the guaranteed health of pro hockey at this level? Probably not. The ideal solution would see 2 or 3 separate leagues defined entirely by geography, but that simply is not going to happen. Not yet, at least.

So in the immediate future, the best possible path is a full merger. Get everyone under one proverbial roof, and then perhaps a few years later, discuss splitting into smaller geographically-logical leagues if one nationwide league isn’t working.

Because right now, the status quo CLEARLY isn’t working. We’ve had a net loss of 25 teams in the past 8 seasons, and we certainly can’t afford to lose another 25.

It’s time for a change. The book of “Double-A” hockey currently has two volumes, and both are falling apart. Ripping out a bunch of pages from one, while idly watching pages occasionally fall out of both, is NOT the solution. Binding all of the pages together with a new cover might not be the ultimate solution either, but it would definitely be a step in the right direction.

A Fine Debut at Ford Center

This past Saturday evening, the IceMen made their Ford Center debut in grand fashion – improving to 3-0-1 with a 3-1 victory over those EVIL Fort Wayne Komets! For the first time in team history, and not by my own choosing, I wasn’t “spinning the tunes.” (But if you’re reading this, you probably already knew that – and if you didn’t, you certainly figured it out pretty quickly on Saturday!)

My new gig this season is that of stat geek (a role for which I am well-suited), keeping track of face-offs and generating shot charts for Coach Kromm. I watched the game from the press box, which is the closest thing to a “nosebleed” section you’ll find in the fantastic new facility.

[I also captured some video - including player introductions, the first couple minutes of game action, the first IceMen goal (with the new goal song), and the victory celebration - all of which you can watch here.]

Throughout the evening, I jotted down some notes about the on-ice action and the off-ice festivities. You can get a straight-up game recap on EvansvilleIceMen.com, so my goal with this IceMenManiacs.com piece is to recap the home opener in a different way. It’s part news, part analysis, part opinion, and hopefully all worth reading. Please let me know what you think, either in the comments or on the Maniac Message Board

 

ON THE ICE:

• Overall, the IceMen played relatively well. All 3 goals were scored in the low slot, and it was nice to see the team generate pressure down low like that. There were a few troubling defensive lapses, but starting goaltender Pier-Olivier Pelletier was strong between the pipes and he made up for the occasional meltdown in front of him. The team won most of the corner battles and “brought it” physically, which always pays dividends. Going forward, the two biggest issues will be eliminating the defensive lapses and generating more total shots. You’re not going to win many games when taking just 17 shots; Saturday was an exception to the general rule.

• Todd Robinson, just named CHL Player of the Week, is smooth as silk on the ice. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time, and he clearly makes his linemates better. Josh Beaulieu and Sean O’Connor got to enjoy significant ice time with “T-Rob” on Saturday, and it’s no coincidence that “Bo” and “OC” scored all 3 IceMen goals. That line now has a combined 26 points (10 goals and 16 assists) in 4 games this season.

• The “second line” generally consisted of Nicklas Lindberg, Brian Bicek and John Ronan. “Bice” has 2 goals so far this season, and he leads the team in shots with 17. He was everywhere – chasing down loose pucks, generating scoring chances, and even intervening in post-whistle skirmishes. He may not be lighting up the scoreboard yet, but the points will come if he keeps playing the same way he did on Saturday.

• The “energy line” was comprised of Malcolm Gwilliam, Matt Pierce and Mike Sgroi. At times, Sgroi was replaced by a double-shifting Bicek or Lindberg. The line did not see a ton of ice time, but they certainly brought the energy when need be – both Sgroi and Gwilliam engaged in some crowd-pleasing fisticuffs.

• Defenseman and new daddy Jordan Little also knocked knuckles in the game, and his one-sided victory over Kaleigh Schrock should not be overlooked. The Komets scored 2:44 into the second period to knot the score at 1-1 and deflate the Ford Center a bit, but Little immediately brought the life back into the building with his pummeling of Schrock just 4 seconds later. The IceMen went on to score twice during the rest of the middle frame, and that 3-1 margin held up the rest of the way.

• Tap of the stick to fellow blueliner Philippe Plante, who was solid all night long. Plante made a critical play in the second period that quite possibly changed the direction of the game. With Evansville leading 2-1, the Komets saw a 2-on-1 thwarted when Plante laid out to intercept a pass through the slot that otherwise would have resulted in a high-quality one-timer that would have been difficult for Pelletier to save. So instead of a potential 2-2 tie, the Komets did not seize the momentum and the IceMen scored a few minutes later to go up 3-1.

• The IceMen went 28-26 on face-offs in the game, including a stellar 14-2 mark in the offensive zone. Robinson was 13-13, Lindberg was 7-8, Gwilliam was 4-5, Beaulieu was 3-0, and Bicek was 1-0. Robinson started the game with 8 straight face-off wins, then went just 5-13 down the stretch.

• The linesmen ejected the center from a face-off just 3 times throughout the game – one ejection for Evansville and two for Fort Wayne. That was a big difference from last season, when it seemed like a center was getting tossed from about every other draw.

• Final thought about the game itself: The puck sure was bouncing around a lot, and the boards and glass produced some crazy caroms. The soft ice should set up better over time and as winter deepens, but the boards and glass likely won’t play very differently going forward. If the IceMen players can get comfortable with the way the home rink plays, their understanding of the building’s idiosyncrasies could really factor into home-ice advantage later this season and in the playoffs.

 

OFF THE ICE:

• First and foremost, best wishes to off-ice official and four-year IceMen fan Dave Huff, who took a nasty spill on the ice while setting up the nets before the game. Huff was knocked unconscious for several minutes and had to be removed from the ice on a stretcher. He suffered two fractured ribs and a broken clavicle, and will obviously be out of action for at least a month. Get well soon, Dave!

• Kudos to the IceMen ticket sales staff for getting so many folks inside the building for the opener. While the “butts in the seats” count was certainly lower than the announced attendance of 8722, it was still a very respectable draw for a team that has never even topped 2000 before. Let’s just hope that many of the first-timers had a good time and will decide to return for more games in the future!

• On the other hand, a major thumbs-down to the city for its poor preparation of the facility for the game. The goal nets were not set up correctly throughout the evening because the city failed to drill holes in the concrete below the ice, which are used to properly seat the nets on Marsh pegs. Also, no advanced consideration was given to the functionality of goal lights or the security/privacy of the goal judges. And perhaps the biggest problem was the installation (or lack thereof) of the glass atop the dasher boards, which was not completed until 6:34 PM – a full 34 minutes after the arena doors were supposed to open.

• Props to Ron Geary for donning a tuxedo for the evening. The IceMen owner took part in a pre-game ceremonial puck drop with CHL Commissioner Duane Lewis and Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel. I found it ironic that Weinzapfel, the man responsible for making Ford Center a reality, was heartily jeered by the fans when introduced. Perhaps it was just a case of folks still being angry about how the city “negotiated” with the IceMen with regard to the team’s arena lease…

• I’ve seen and heard a lot of complaints about the new PA Announcer, Tommy Mason from WLFW (93.5 “The Wolf”). While “two minutes for fighting” certainly wasn’t his finest moment, I think we all need to give him time to settle into the role. He’s clearly not very familiar with the game of hockey yet, and he’s simply going to need some time to get to know the IceMen fans and the general flow of things. I talked to him a bit before the game and he seems like a very nice and talented guy who wants to succeed but fully knows that he won’t be perfect right out of the gate. So let’s be patient with him. I think, in time, he’ll be just fine.

• I’ve also seen and heard a lot of negative talk about the new music and sound work, particularly with regard to the team’s new goal song. That’s the most glaring change (and in my opinion it’s not for the better regardless of why the change was made), but a lot of the other offerings need some work as well. I’m not real sure how “Tom Sawyer” by Rush or “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” by Jake Owen are power-play songs, and it was quite difficult to hear many of the evening’s announcements because the sound director saw fit to play music underneath many of them. I could go on in far greater detail, but I won’t – not now, at least. Let’s just say there’s a LOT of room for improvement. In any case, I do appreciate the kind words and the many “we missed your music” comments following the game. Trust me – I missed doing it just as much as you missed me doing it!

• On a positive note, I will say that the team did a pretty good job of using the video screens on the giant scoreboard. The opening video (before player introductions) was very well done, and instant replays of game action were a nice addition to the game-night experience. I particularly enjoyed the slow-motion replays of fights.

• There were several other good things about the “show” on Saturday. The pre-game street party was a lot of fun, especially the performance by the super-talented Boom Squad. The Zooperstars were quite entertaining, it was great to see expanded sponsor support of Chuck-A-Puck, and my old buddy Stephen Rickard certainly had a good time roaming around the building with microphone in hand and the Icicles in tow. I’m sure that Rickard is just devastated by being asked to spend his evenings surrounded by a half-dozen attractive young ladies.

• And finally, it was a very good night for the IceMen Maniacs Booster Club. Dixie sold a whopping 102 cowbells! (For comparison’s sake, consider that the Booster Club sold 443 all of last season.) It was a great start to the season, but there are at least 32 home games left – and hundreds more cowbells to be sold. So if you’d like to help out, please click here for more info about how you can join the Booster Club and help support the IceMen players!

 

LAST WORDS:

All in all, it was a pretty solid debut at the new arena. The IceMen are clearly an improved team this season, and Saturday should prove to be just the first of many victories on home ice. Off the ice, it was a mixed bag – lots of cool stuff for the opener, but the “every game” aspects of the show definitely need improvement.

This was a Saturday night against the team’s primary rival, opening a brand-new building. It was special, and a lot of special one-night-only things were a part of the atmosphere. But despite all of that and the game featuring the home team winning and several fights too, a large chunk of the crowd left early.

Hockey is an exciting and entertaining sport, but the game by itself isn’t going to sell to the general public in this market; success comes by doing the off-ice stuff not just adequately, but superbly. Folks want to be entertained; a home game needs to be an event, not just a hockey game. Take out the Boom Squad and the Zooperstars and all of the other special stuff that was a part of Opening Night, and there’s cause for concern.

The “little things” (and not-so-little things like having a goal song and power-play songs that actually excite the fans instead of killing the crowd) need to be fixed rather quickly, because “we still have some bugs to work out” won’t fly anymore on a random Sunday afternoon in December or a Wednesday night in February.

If things aren’t fixed soon, folks leaving early won’t be much of a problem anymore – because those folks won’t be in the building to begin with.

The Sane Side of Darren Seid

To the surprise of few, the All American Hockey League has suspended operations. The announcement came back on June 16, with the caveat that the “Single-A” league hopes to resume operations for the 2012-2013 season.

The IceMen called the AAHL home for 2 seasons. The first season (2008-2009) was a rough one both on and off the ice, as the All American Hockey Association (as it was known at the time) experienced a LOT of growing pains. The IceMen then captured the AAHL championship in 2009-2010, which was the league’s most stable and “legitimate” season. And when Evansville moved up to the “Double-A” Central Hockey League starting with the 2010-2011 season, the floundering AAHL ship quickly started to sink without its flagship franchise on board.

Perhaps the most iconic figure from the AAHL’s brief history was Darren Seid, the General Manager and Head Coach of the Chi-Town Shooters. A legend in his own mind, Seid also occasionally suited up as a player for the Shooters, and piled up a rap sheet of suspensions that would make Chris Pronger blush. The furry galoot even famously stripped down to his birthday suit (thankfully only from the waist up) “Slap Shot” style during a brawl with the IceMen.

But in one critical instance, the fruit loop whose on-ice shenanigans often made the league look like a complete joke was actually a much-needed voice of reason. (Yeah, I know, right?)

During the league’s rocky inaugural campaign, the Detroit Dragons abruptly ceased operations, leaving the remaining teams with a bunch of home dates for which there was no visiting team. Not wanting to give up valuable home games and the associated ticket revenue, the AAHA leaders and general managers tried to find new owners for the Dragons, but to no avail.

It seemed that the only viable option – unwanted as it may be – was to cancel all Dragons road games and treat them as forfeit wins for the home teams. The remaining teams would just have to deal with losing the ticket revenue, because it was really the only path that could be taken.

Or was it? The league brass and most of its general managers had another idea – fill those home dates using collections of local men’s league players! That’s right – take that, people who dismiss us as a glorified beer league! We’ll actually sanction our “real” teams playing against beer league teams! That ought to shut you critics up!

As luck would have it, the next scheduled road appearance for the Detroit Dragons was in Evansville on the first weekend of 2009. So the IceMen took on “The Dragons,” a bunch of local guys with varying experience (including a few former University of Southern Indiana Ice Eagles) who wore plain red jerseys with a big black “D” on the front.

I remember hearing one fan suggest that the “D” stood for “Dumb,” as in, “they must think the fans are really dumb if they expect us to buy this garbage!”

The IceMen organization took a lot of heat over the “Dragons” debacle, and rightfully so. But the sad fact is, it originally wasn’t going to be just an Evansville thing. It really was an arrangement that the league’s leaders designed and supported for use by all of the remaining teams.

At least, until they heard the backlash here in Evansville. That’s when plans changed and they somehow found a way to fast-track the arrival of the Chicago Blaze to replace “The Dragons” and fill everybody’s vacant home dates.

Now, here’s the surprising part – the one general manager who vehemently opposed the “beer league” solution was none other than Darren Seid.

You see, when I took over as IceMen webmaster last season, I was given access to the old IceMen Yahoo e-mail account, which is no longer used. But during the early days of the franchise, that account was the hub for the IceMen end of league discussions and debates.

One evening early last season, I spent an hour or two rummaging around the old messages, actually looking for some of the team’s web hosting account information. (I never did find it.) As you’d expect, the vast majority of the hundreds of messages I came across were pretty bland stuff – players inquiring about joining the team, equipment companies trying to make a sale, potential sponsor contacts, league memos about weekly conference calls and whatnot, and ho-hum stuff like that.

But I did stumble upon a string of discussions from the end of 2008, when the real Dragons folded and the fake “Dragons” were born. I had always wondered what the real story was. Now I know, and so do you.

The reality is, “The Dragons” were not merely a Chip Rossetti creation, as some would like to believe. Chip took the brunt of the blame because his team happened to be the first (and eventually only) proverbial guinea pig, but the blame should have been shared because the “Dragons” plan was a collective effort among several people – Chip, the folks in Battle Creek, and the league brass. Now granted, it wasn’t their FIRST choice; they all wanted to do the right thing and find new owners for Detroit.

But when it became clear that a “HockeyTown” revival wasn’t in the cards, the majority of those making the decisions decided that instead of completely losing home dates, “home teams vs local guys” was the way to go league-wide for the rest of the season.

In the string of e-mails I saw, only one GM had the cajones to repeatedly say “this is wrong” and fight for cancellation over a sideshow. That man was Darren Seid.

Whodathunkit?