Many IceMen fans thought that Rich Kromm would return as Head Coach and General Manager of the IceMen for the 2013-14 season, despite the team’s last-place finish in the Eastern Conference in 2012-13, the franchise’s first in the league. In addition to the IceMen being an ECHL expansion team, Evansville also lost more than 400 man-games to injury and dealt with over 30 affiliate player call-ups. Given all of the circumstances surrounding the team’s poor performance, it seemed reasonable that Kromm would be given at least one more season at the helm for the IceMen.
Reasonable, but ultimately not reality. Shortly before 1 PM today, the IceMen sent out a press release to announce that Kromm had been fired. He finished with an 86-94-24 regular-season record in 3 seasons in Evansville.
In the same press release, the franchise also announced the hiring of Jeff Pyle as Head Coach. He will also hold the new title of “Director of Hockey Operations,” instead of “General Manager.”
Pyle, 54, played college hockey at Northern Michigan University, where he won the team’s Rookie of the Year Award (1978-79) and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (NCAA Division I) Player of the Year Award (1980-81).
As a professional, the Missouri native had a white-hot four-year stretch (1983-87) in the original IHL with Flint and Saginaw, racking up 442 points in 324 games during that span. He was named IHL MVP after a 136-point (49-goal) 1986-87 season, and finished his pro career with 7 All-Star appearances.
After concluding his playing career in 1993 in Europe, Pyle got into coaching in Germany. With a few years of seasoning (and a 142-81-31 record) under his belt, he then returned to North America in 1998.
Pyle spent four seasons as Head Coach of the ECHL’s Mobile Mysticks, then stayed with the franchise for eight more seasons after it moved to become the Gwinnett Gladiators. In 12 seasons with Mobile/Gwinnett, he finished with an overall record of 446-323-91 and the team made the playoffs nine times – including a trip to the 2006 Kelly Cup Finals.
After the 2010-11 season, Pyle left Gwinnett to become the Head Coach of the AHL’s Texas Stars for the 2011-12 season. He spent the 2012-13 season as a consultant for the Gladiators, while also dealing with some health problems in his family.
In the team’s press release, IceMen Owner Ron Geary expressed his excitement about Pyle leading the team “to the next level of success in the ECHL.”
When the news broke, IceMenManiacs.com was “first on the scene” at Ellis Park (ahead of the Evansville Courier & Press and both local TV news outlets), digging for additional information.
Following are some highlights of our exclusive conversation with the new coach…
• Pyle first met Geary at an ECHL owners meeting in Atlanta in September 2012. Pyle inquired about a possible General Manager job then, but Geary declined due to Evansville’s commitment to Kromm for the 2012-13 season. The two kept in touch throughout the season, though, becoming friendly and discussing many topics in addition to hockey. That open line of communication eventually produced this most recent development.
• The new coach arrived in Evansville only about 12 hours prior to the team’s issuance of the press release. He does plan on moving to Evansville full-time in the near future.
• Though he does not officially begin in his new role until July 1, Pyle has already begun talking to agents and players about the 2013-14 season. His “start date” of July 1 is merely his target date for being in town “for good” after squaring things away with his family in California.
• Pyle is still in the process of meeting and getting to know the team’s existing office and hockey operations staff, including Athletic Trainer Brian Patafie and Equipment Manager Jeff “Smoke” Adams. He said that he is not insistent on bringing in “his own people,” but simply wants to make sure he’s working with “good people.”
• With regard to on-ice performance, Pyle says he prefers an up-tempo style of play and that he does not like a “trap” style of defense. He wants a hard-working and disciplined group of team-first players who are not concerned about individual stats.
• Pyle said that no decision has been made about Evansville’s NHL/AHL affiliation future, but he did specify that while he enjoys helping young players develop, he is “not a fan of having two affiliates.”
To see the team’s official press release about the coaching change
and to discuss this big news with other IceMen fans,
please visit the Maniac Message Board!