By Mike Mastovich
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – The Mississippi Sea Wolves organization survived a direct hit by Hurricane Katrina.
But the aftermath of one of the nation’s worst natural disasters was too much for the ECHL team to overcome.
On Wednesday, the Sea Wolves requested a voluntary suspension of operations for the upcoming season. The Biloxi, Miss., team plans to return in 2006-07.
The voluntary suspension request almost certainly will be approved by the ECHL Board of Governors during a preseason meeting on Sept. 22.
“They made it official today although we probably knew it was coming,” ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said during a telephone interview Wednesday from Princeton, N.J. “We’ll discuss and vote on it next week at our meeting. There are a lot of issues that are attached and related to that, including revamping the schedule.”
The damage to Gulf Coast Coliseum and especially the deadly destruction in Biloxi made playing a conventional home schedule impossible. McKenna said the Sea Wolves considered playing in Mobile, Ala., but there were too many obstacles.
“To their credit, they looked at a number of options,” McKenna said. “They knew from Day 1 that playing in Biloxi would not be an option. They looked at various locations, including Mobile. The folks in Mobile were good enough to make a proposal to try to accommodate them. It just became evident that the financial losses would be too great as well as the inability of fans to be able to make that trip and follow the team and support the team.”
Revamping the 72-date schedule for the remaining 26 games will not be a simple undertaking.
Even teams such as the Johnstown Chiefs that weren’t scheduled to play the Sea Wolves might be affected.
“First and foremost, we feel really bad about what happened on the Gulf Coast, not only in Biloxi but also New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as a whole,” said Kevin McGeehan, the Chiefs vice president of business operations. “It’s a hurdle the Sea Wolves face. Luckily everyone in the Sea Wolves organization is OK.
“We anticipated the schedule changing. We had our pocket schedules ready to go on the press, but when the hurricane hit, we put a stop to that. It’s probably not going to affect any home dates. Maybe opponents, if anything. The schedule could be exactly the same, maybe slightly different.”
Other teams such as the Texas Wildcatters will have significant juggling. The Wildcatters, a team owned by Rick Adams, the Chiefs’ minority owner, were to play Mississippi 13 times.
“No question, it’s a massive job at this late date,” McKenna said. “For example, Mississippi was playing games out West. Teams from the West were playing in Mississippi and at other teams on that I-10 corridor out East. To replace those games, we might have to bring additional teams from the Carolinas (to play Sea Wolves’ scheduled opponents). Then teams from the North might have to go to the Carolinas so that they are able to maintain attractive weekend dates there.
“This will have repercussions throughout the league.”
McKenna said the league will adapt.
“It’s an act of God. There is nothing we can do,” McKenna said. “You pick up the pieces and move forward and try to make the best of it. Those inconveniences to the other teams in the league, while not insignificant, they pale in comparison to what a lot of the folks in the Gulf Coast area are going through right now.”