By Larry Holder
The Sun Herald
BILOXI, Miss. – Mississippi Sea Wolves coach Steffon Walby walks through the once-devastated Coast Coliseum these days with a little giddy-up in his step.
The ECHL team has been back in its offices for several months now. The renovated locker rooms have a shiny glow they never had even before Hurricane Katrina.
Walby also doesn’t have to wear 32 different hats anymore now that the team has hired William Yates to be its president of hockey operations. Walby can concentrate on being the Sea Wolves general manager/head coach.
He will begin talking to collegiate and junior hockey players next month. As far as speaking with professional players, Walby can start recruiting on June 1.
Every team in the league will protect eight players once June 1 arrives, but any left off the list will be fair game for the Sea Wolves.
Walby is also working on being affiliated with an NHL team. Before the Sea Wolves left, they were within the New York Islanders organization. Most ECHL teams are affiliated with the NHL, but a select few are not. As hockey is becoming closer to a three-tiered system considering the NHL’s salary cap, Walby wants the team to be a part of the growing trend.
“I want to solidify an affiliation because that is going to be a key to getting some of the better players to come here,” Walby said. “The hungrier players will want to play for us. It also helps because you can get five to 10 players from your affiliation at any time.
“I have to worry about apartments. I have to worry about furniture rental. I have to worry about all of this good stuff that in the past was easy. Now it’s a little more difficult.
“The players that come down here are going to have to realize it’s not all about dollars and cents.”
Walby said he’s not certain about how challenging it will be to sell playing on the Coast considering the state of the Coast more than a year and half removed from Katrina.
“As a coach and from somebody who’s lived down here for a while, my pitch is going to come from the heart. It’s going to be a different game this year but I’m still offering the same thing – opportunity, everybody gets a fair shake, a professional place to hang your hat. I’m still offering all of those things that I did before the storm, but things have changed.
“The community is on the rise rather than established. The crowd and the fan base is going to be bigger than it was before. Not only are there going to be night where we have to overcome the usual on-ice problems, but there’s going to be unforeseen things that we are going to have to overcome.
“It’s going to be a touch difficult, but it’s going to be more rewarding. Everybody is going to go ahead and overcome the obstacles and be better off as men for it than just be hockey players.
“This will be the biggest training camp since the inaugural camp. We’re looking at anywhere from 25 to 30 players. Everybody has a fair shot.
“You’re looking at 14 players, 15 players that are going to have a fair shot. And in professional hockey, I don’t care what anybody says, to have your own fate in your own hands, you can ask for a better situation to succeed.”