And so the ice age in Macon re-ignited with the official announcement of the Macon Mayhem coming to the midstate as a member of the Southern Professional Hockey League. In a press conferenece at the Marriot Macon City Centre, media and die-hard Mid-State hockey fans gathered in a somewhat filled meeting room to hear news they've been wanting for a long time.
The last time a Macon team played on frozen pond in the Mid-State was in the 2004-05 season when the Macon Trax took to the ice at the Coliseum in the SPHL. The Trax lasted all of one season, finishing second and advanced to the SPHL Championship before losing to Columbus and then folded. Aside from public ice skating sessions, the Coliseum ice surface has not been used.
The gathering was lively as city leaders, hockey fans and those that were curious to see what was going on met to hear the news that they had longed to hear. There were even a couple of fans from Macon's soon-to-be rival in attendance.
The contract has been signed. The deal has been made and done. The logo has been unveiled.
Professional hockey has returned to Middle Georgia.
Mayhem is coming to Macon.
And we don't mean that guy from the Allstate ads.
The process for a team coming back started last August with Mark Richards talking to league officials, who chose Macon in a unanimous vote. After the team made a proposal to the Bibb County Commissioners, they voted on the idea and it was unanimous.
Bob Kursner, the team's owner told the crowd gathered that without interest, there would be no hockey team in Macon. The team will have an immediate rival instate as they will play Columbus when things get underway in 2015. “The process was simple,” Kerzner said. “Basically, you need ice to play ice hockey. And Augusta’s pipes rotted out. ... It was going to take $1.2 million to replace. We began looking at alternatives. We went to Greensboro (North Carolina); we called Tallahassee (Florida). There were a lot of different places that we were looking at. Then we found out that Macon had called.
“Right after that, I talked to the league president and asked if it was OK to talk with Macon if anyone was looking around. I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. He said, ‘No, no, nobody’s looking there.’ That’s how the whole thing started.”
League president Jim Combs said that there is excitment with the team coming in 2015-16. "We can't say enough about Macon coming back to hockey." Mayor Robert Reichert told the crowd that the city is looking forward to the return of the sport in Macon. "We believe in you and we believe in hockey. This will be an opportunity for families to come and enjoy a game without breaking the bank."
The schedule for 2015-16 lasts 56 games long and home games will be Friday and Saturday nights as well as an occasional Sunday afternoon contest and the first game in Macon will be in October of 2015. There is still some work needed for the Coliseum to get things ready and the Augusta franchise still has equipment to be moved before the puck drops. The team will have an 18-man roster, including two goal tenders and will have an international flavor and will have a working relationship with the ECHL. The league is a developmental league and has no direct relationship with the NHL.
Kurshner said that the office has to be set up and hopefully things will be up and running by July 21st. "We need to reach out to the midstate, not just Macon, to make this successful," he said in his opening comments. "We're going to make mistakes. We're not the Whoopee, we're not the Trax. We are who we are."
If you want to look at it in baseball terms, think of the SPHL as Single A baseball with a looser affliation that baseball and teams in the SPHL do not directly affiliate with teams at other levels. Kerzner, who is also the owner of two McDonald’s franchises in South Carolina, said the average player salary in the SPHL is $325 per week. The team can carry three veterans, defined by those who have played more than 225 professional games.
The team that will play in Macon came as a result of rink problems in Augusta. The former Riverhawks team that will call the mid-state home had ice problems in their final nine games of the 2012-13 season. Those problems at the James Brown Arena in turn forced the team to cancel games, which caused legal problems. The SPHL has teams as far away as Peoria, Illinois (Rivermen) and as close as Columbus, Georgia (Cottonmouths). The home and road uniforms for the team were displayed at the news conference and there is a chance that the team could have some for sale to promote the franchise once things get up and running.
Granted, fans in the mid-state will have to wait until 2015 but the wait will be worth it. The new ownership wants to make sure that their ducks are in a row from bill to tail. For Macon, hockey failure is NOT an option.
Macon is a word of mouth town and that's not going to work. It's suicide on a stick. Word of mouth means that there's a chance that the message could be missed or misunderstood. Advertising and letting people know that you're out there means that the message is loud, strong and clear and there's no misunderstanding. If it means they have to put an ad in every church flyer, on every bus in MTA's fleet and hit all the airwaves, then so be it. Macon doesn't have to be Atlanta. It can be a professional sports town (not to take anything away from high school sports or Mercer) if the cards that they are dealt are played right.
The new ice age came to Macon by away of Augusta. While the quality of play may not be NHL, it's hockey.
Let's hope Macon is ready for MAYHEM.