Sea Wolves, Coliseum Both Must Wait

By Larry Holder
The Sun Herald

BILOXI, Miss. – Mississippi Sea Wolves operating owner Mike Rogers and coach Steffon Walby sat in the team’s makeshift office Wednesday waiting for a single sheet of paper.

A single sheet of paper from Mississippi Coast Coliseum director Bill Holmes that could be faxed to the ECHL.

Holmes also is waiting for a single slip of paper in the form of an insurance check. Without the check in Holmes’ hands by Monday, there will be no letter written.

Without the letter, the Sea Wolves will not be included in the ECHL’s 2006-07 schedule.

Something Rogers doesn’t want to occur.

“We’re at a crossroads,” Rogers said. “We’re trying desperately to save the season. You’ve got an ownership that is 100 percent committed to saving the season.”

ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said the league would be willing to grant an extension of a day or two provided he approves of the reasoning. But no other possible extension will be given.

“We are not trying to put down an ultimatum,” McKenna said. “We’re not trying to play hardball. But when we discussed this two months ago, we decided the end of March or beginning of April wasn’t an unreasonable request.”

Both Rogers and Holmes understand the team’s fate comes down to how quickly the Coliseum’s insurance check will pop up in the mailbox.

The Sea Wolves’ 2005-06 season was canceled because of Hurricane Katrina. The estimated cost to repair and replace their equipment will be $400,000 to $800,000.

“The numbers aren’t that much,” Walby said. “The Coliseum is going to be an operating facility July 22. That’s about five months. So you can’t tell me that the price of putting hockey back on the ice for $400,000-$800,000… It’s a lot of money for you and me, but for a facility like that, it’s not a lot.”

Holmes said that amount would be enough for the team to function. That is if that was the only issue with the Coliseum.

The problem, though, is the Coliseum has far greater issues than hockey equipment, said Holmes. Materials such as glass, dashers, chillers and Zambonis are far down his list of priorities.

Holmes said the amount he needs to get the team back into the Coliseum is at least $8.5 million more than what he’s already received. He also said insurance adjusters have identified $30 million in damages to the facility.

Two cooling towers are running, but the Coliseum needs four to sustain the ice for the six months it sits on the floor. Two more towers could cost at least $1 million.

“I can’t write that letter until I get the money in place to get the bare essentials done,” Holmes said. “Not the hockey thing so much, I’ve got to get the bare essentials done.

“If I had the little money that we need for hockey, I’ve still got to get my roofs fixed, my chillers, I’ve got to get my cooling tower, glass, doors, windows and everything put back into the building before we could even think about playing.

“They sent an e-mail out saying all they needed is $400,000. That money might be all that it takes just to get the hockey stuff provided the chiller is good.”

If the deadline passes without a solution, Holmes said he could guarantee the Coliseum would be ready for the Sea Wolves to play in 2007.

Then it would be up to ticket sales to determine the team’s fate for the 2007-08 season. The minimum season ticket sales for an ECHL team is 1,500 packages. Right now, 931 season ticket holders have at least 25 percent put down to reserve tickets for the ’06 season.

But the Sea Wolves’ management and ownership continue to hang onto the slim hopes for 2006-07.

“Do I think it’s going to happen in four days?” Walby said. “I’ve seen a lot worse situations get resolved quicker. But I don’t know.”

Holmes continues to hold his breath as he waits for the check to arrive. He hopes the check arrives before the ECHL’s deadline so he could write the letter giving the OK to play.

But four days before the deadline, Holmes’ pen remains untouched.

“Today, I couldn’t write the letter,” Holmes said.