Sunday, 17 April 2016

SPHL Welcomes Another

While three younger fans were used to show off the new threads, Friday was a big day for the SPHL as they welcomed their newest team in the Evansville Thunderbolts! Evansville, Indiana has a rich minor hockey history as the IceMen played in the ECHL, IHL, CHL, and UHL before a team of the same name was moved from Muskegon in the All American Hockey League. Adding a team in Indiana for the SPHL makes sense as there's hope the Thunderbolts will become immediate rivals with the Peoria Rivermen, but he league hopes to rekindle some of the prior fire in the fans that was lost after the ECHL franchise decided to pull up roots and look elsewhere for a home.

Some may question the logo chosen, but the Thunderbolt name means a lot to Evansville. The city was home to Republic Aviation that manufactured the P-47 Thunderbolt planes during World War II. Team owner Mike Hall has a special tie to the Thunderbolt as well as his grandfather was a designer craftsman at Republic Aviation, so it was an easy choice for him. Ultimately, an online vote by fans was used to vet a number of names, and the Thunderbolt name was an easy winner.

"It was a landslide," Hall told reporters. "Nothing else was even close."

It dawned on me when looking at the jerseys above that there was a distinct similarity to the Lethbridge Hurricanes' jerseys in colour. The Hurricanes' logo was originally based on a fighter plane as well, but the WHL team has since gone in a new direction. While there are similarities, I will say that there are enough differences that the two teams shouldn't worry about the other stealing fans or confusing one with the other.

The SPHL now has nine teams with the inclusion of Evansville, and they seem to be developing a heckuva following thanks to some excellent marketing. The Columbus Cottonmouths still have Shannon Szabados tending to their nets, the Peoria Rivermen and Pensacola Ice Flyers are still dominant teams in the league, the Knoxville Ice Bears have won four league championships since 2004 (including last season), and eight of the nine teams make the playoffs so almost every city and the fans in those cities have a shot at a President's Cup Trophy parade!

The SPHL, if you're not aware of the league, is a little different than standard NHL/AHL/ECHL rules. Teams dress 16 players which includes the two netminders. There is no trapezoid, allowing goaltenders to play the puck anywhere they like. There are no stick curvature limits - Bobby Hull would have been a star in this league! Any penalty in the final two minutes of 3-on-3 overtime is an automatic penalty shot! Needless to say, the few changes they have make the SPHL slightly different from leagues that most North American hockey fans are used to seeing!

Adding a great minor-hockey town like Evansville is a shrewd business move by the SPHL. The fans are passionate, they love their hockey heroes, and they support a winner. If the Thunderbolts can ice a solid team, the SPHL will be that much stronger after this expansion.

And it didn't cost a billion dollars.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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