By Ryan Dozier
Pensacola News Journal
PENSACOLA, Fla. – In April, the Pensacola Ice Pilots almost packed up and headed out of town.
Now, they’re planning to renew their rivalry with the Mississippi Sea Wolves.
The Ice Pilots announced their schedule for their 12th season, and they will play a dozen games against their rivals in Biloxi. The Sea Wolves suspended operations for the last two seasons after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.
Coming off the worst season in franchise history — 20 wins, 46 points — the Ice Pilots have a new coach in John Marks and renewed hope.
“I expect to see a better product on the ice, especially with John Marks coaching,” said fan John Rahn, manager of Sports Avenue in Cordova Mall. “(Marks has) pretty much won everywhere he has been. He just won a championship in the SPHL (Southern Professional Hockey League).
“(The Ice Pilots) have always had a good nucleus of fans at 2,000 and 3,000 fans at every game, and that has been for a bad team.”
The Ice Pilots will open the season in Gwinnett, Ga., on Oct. 19, then return to The Hangar the next night to face the Gladiators again.
Pensacola’s first game against Mississippi is scheduled for Oct. 28 in Biloxi. The Sea Wolves make their first trip to Pensacola on Dec. 14.
“Our No. 1 priority is putting a winning and competitive product on the Ice,” said Greg Schuh, the Ice Pilots’ team president and managing partner. “Our second priority is to improve our entertainment and game-night promotions.”
“I expect the fans to really step up and support the Ice Pilots through ticket sales. (The fans) have spoken out, and they want the Ice Pilots to stay.
Jacque Wallace, 45, is among the Pensacola residents ready to support the Ice Pilots.
“Well, I know of a lot of people who were sad to see (the Ice Pilots) go that will be glad to see them come back,” Wallace said. “I think it will be good for the community overall.”