Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Two Letters And A Storm?

You might be wondering why I posted what appears to be a beer league jersey on HBIC, but this jersey saw professional hockey action in the SPHL over two seasons. The Pee Dee Cyclones played in the SPHL from 2005-07 where they didn't exactly wow crowds or win over the hearts of their community they called home in Florence, South Carolina. The logo is rather underwhelming for this jersey worn in 2005-06 in their first season in the SPHL, but they would modernize it for the second season. The only problem was that season would be their last near the Pee Dee River watershed from which they drew their name as the team would move to Winston-Salem, North Carolina as the Twin City Cyclones for the 2007-08 season. Today, though, is the story of the Pee Dee Cyclones!

As stated above, there was nothing remarkable about the Pee Dee Cyclones as they managed to win just 16 games in both seasons while posting sub-.400 win percentages in both campaigns. Aside from one less loss that resulted in one additional overtime victory in 2006-07, the Cyclones posted 39 points and 40 points in those two seasons of 56 games each, and only one resulted in a playoff berth.

Pee Dee finished in sixth-place out of seven SPHL teams in 2005-06 with those 39 points on a 16-33-6-1 record, seven points better than the Ron Duguay-coached Jacksonville Barracudas. In a rather inexplicable playoff year, Pee Dee finished 28 points behind the fifth-place Huntsville Havoc, but ended up with a playoff bye through the first round of the playoffs.

How this was possible is anyone's guess as there is a distinct lack of information on the situation, but they would play the other team with a bye - the first-place Knoxville Ice Bears - in Round Two where they would would win Game One by a 5-4 overtime score before Knoxville hammered them 7-1 the next night, beat Pee Dee 3-1 six days after Game Two, and took a third-straight game by a 6-3 in the second-half of the back-to-back set. Knoxville would advance to the final after downing Pee Dee 3-1 in their series before Knoxville beat the Florida Seals to win the SPHL Championship.

Edan Welch's 37 goals were second-best in the SPHL in 2005-06 while his 69 points were eighth-best in the circuit. The problem was the 25-point drop-off from Welch to second-leading scorer Joel Petkoff as Pee Dee didn't have much firepower beyond Welch. Petkoff was the only other player to hit the 20-goal plateau, and he and Welch were one-third of all six of the Pee Dee players who hit double-digits in scoring.

Welch, it should be noted, spent four years with the AUS' St. Thomas University Tommies before playing a number of seasons in the SPHL. Welch never was the prolific scorer at the Canadian university level, amassing just 15 goals and 26 assists in 91 AUS games, but he broke out in a big way in the SPHL where he was a point-per-game player throughout his career.

Other players with Pee Dee that year who played for a U SPORTS team include winger Geoff Rollins (Saskatchewan), and goaltenders Kelly Shields (Brandon) and Mark Cairns (Acadia).

The 1450 fans that the Cyclones attracted were the lowest by a considerable amount compared to the other six teams, and that is a death knell for a minor-pro hockey team that relies heavily on ticket sales to stay afloat. The Cyclones decided to make some changes to try to attract more attention in the off-season.

The Cyclones unveiled a new logo that modernized the team from the wacky bird and cartoonish lettering logo to the new, sleek Cyclones. The jersey colours remained the same in that they remained wearing red-and-white on the road and white-with-red at home, but the new logo is considerable upgrade from their 2005-06 image. While the new look was generally liked by the hockey community, the fans needed to flock to the Florence Center to see the Cyclones play in order to keep the Cyclones out of red ink and on the ice in South Carolina.

The team made changes in order to boost the offence, but the same leaky goaltending was the Achilles' heel in this season. Despite scoring the second-most goals in the SPHL in 2006-07 with 225, the Cyclones also surrendered the most goals in the league - 42 more than second-worst Jacksonville! Needless to say, the 16-32-7-1 record that the Cyclones posted was a one-point improvement, but it was the worst record in the league as the Cyclones finished seventh out of seven teams, not including the Florida Seals who folded on January 4, 2007.

As a result of their seventh-place finish, the Cyclones missed the SPHL playoffs in 2006-07 and recorded another terrible year of attendances. Mike Richards, who had coached the team through the first season and into the second season, was relieved of his head coaching duties after starting the 2006-07 season 9-23-5-1 and was replaced by Chris Crombie who went 7-9-2-0 in the final 18 games. They just ran out of games after making an exciting run at the end, and that would be the final games seen in Florence, South Carolina due to the poor attendance and the economic downturn in the region at that time.

Allan Sirois led the team with 78 points - tied for fourth-most in the SPHL - and was one of three Cyclones players who scored 30+ goals in 2006-07. His 30 goals saw him finish tied for eighth-most in the SPHL while his 48 assists tied him for fifth-most in the league. Daryl Moore lead the team with 33 goals which landed him at fourth-most in the SPHL that season, and Edan Welch - who had the breakout season one year earlier - showed his playmaking skills by leading the team with 58 assists, finishing one behind the leader to be second in the league in helpers, and finishing second in team scoring with 75 points which was good for sixth-most in the SPHL.

As alluded to above, though, the goaltending wasn't a highlight as Guy St. Vincent played 30 games for the Cyclones while sporting a 4.84 GAA and an .880 save percentage while posting an 8-15-4 record. Brad Buss played 19 games to post a 3-11-1 record with a 5.08 GAA and an .860 save percentage, and Len DiCostanzo got into 16 games to record a 5-4-2 record with a 3.98 GAA and an .885 save percentage. When your team goals-against average is in the high-4.00 range and your save percentage hovers around .880, success is likely not going to come easy.

Welch and Rollins were back as part of the U SPORTS alumni for 2006-07, and they were joined by defenceman Kevin Harris (Regina), winger Scott Corbett (York), and goaltender Guy St. Vincent who played one lone game for the University of Manitoba.

With the team struggling on the ice and at the box office, the Cyclones couldn't come to an agreement with the Florence Civic Center to play games there, and they would eventually relocate to Winston-Salem, North Carolina where they were named the Twin City Cyclones. The logo would remain the came, but the "Pee Dee" would be replaced by "Twin City" to represent their new home city. The Cyclones would last for just two seasons in Winston-Salem before they folded in 2009.

The Cyclones lived up to the adage "here for a good time, not a long time" with their two SPHL seasons as the Pee Dee Cyclones, and it was clear that they probably should have worked on their game a little more while they were in Florence as that pair of 16-win seasons didn't do them many favours. It is cool, though, to see all the U SPORTS alumni who skated in the league during that time, and the Pee Dee Cyclones boasted their own Canadian university players during that time!

The SPHL today is still a landing spot for Canadian university players who are breaking into the pro game, so keep your eyes on those teams including the new SPHL franchise for 2021-22 in Savannah, Georgia who may come scouting at a university arena near you!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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