By Doug Barber
The Sun Herald
BILOXI, Miss. – ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna had visited the Mississippi Coast Coliseum when the Mississippi Sea Wolves skated into action in past seasons.
On a cold Saturday morning, he got a chance to inspect the post-Katrina Coliseum to get some perspective on where the facility stands regarding bringing the Sea Wolves back for the 2006-07 hockey campaign.
Sea Wolves general manager Jesse Martin, operating owner Mike Rogers and coach Steffon Walby took McKenna on a tour of the darkened facility.
New seating is being installed. The scoreboard, lowered during Hurricane Katrina, still sits on the floor where the hockey rink would have been. Locker rooms and offices, which were located on the ground level, need renovation.
“I had seen a lot of pictures, and heard a lot of reports,” McKenna said. “It doesn’t compare to seeing the devastation first hand.
“It is sobering to see it but worthwhile in trying to determine the situation in terms of the team being able to come back and play, and how realistic it is for next year.
“I saw the remnants of the barge on the roof (of the adjacent Holiday Inn Express). It is a shocking display of the power of Mother Nature. It’s almost impossible to visualize that.”
Rogers, Martin and Walby emphasized their determination to bring the Sea Wolves back, and optimism was apparent. Training camp for the Sea Wolves for next season would begin in early October.
“I’m amazed at (the Sea Wolves management) and the general population in terms of resilience,” McKenna said. “You can see the optimism in terms of rebuilding. It’s heartwarming.”
During the tour, Walby discovered the hockey stick of Chris Cava, who is currently playing for the ECHL team in Columbia, S.C.
Walby said that the day for the inspection was unique.
“It is ironic that today is chilly in our rink and we are not playing hockey,” Walby said. “I’ve been involved in fund-raising. I’m trying to get us as much help from other people to get us back on ice. That is important for the Sea Wolves, and it is important for the Coast to see that professional teams want to stay here after Katrina.
“We were going to celebrate our 10th anniversary, a decade in the den. Now it will just be an extended 10 years.”
The Sea Wolves have signed players for next season who are playing with other teams this season.
McKenna noted that the ECHL has been confronted by something that had never happened to it – losing two teams in the same year. The league also lost the Texas Wildcatters, located in Beaumont, to Hurricane Rita.
“This league has been around for 18 years,” McKenna said. “We’ve never had a situation where we lost a team for an entire season for natural causes. Within three weeks, we have two major hurricanes where their eyes come ashore within five miles of two of our buildings. It’s been a unique situation.”