By Steve Wiseman
COLUMBIA, S.C. – With a new arena about to be constructed and a new head coach already on the job, the Columbia Inferno continued their off-season makeover Wednesday with Kevin Kavanagh (pictured) becoming the team’s general manager.
Kavanagh comes to Columbia from the Iowa Stars of the American Hockey League, where he was vice president of business operations.
He takes control of the Inferno’s day-to-day operations from Rick Woodard, the team’s general manager since its inception in 2001. Woodard is relinquishing his general managerial duties to oversee construction of the team’s $30 million, 6,500-seat arena in Lexington County.
“We just need full-time effort to get that building up, and we need full-time effort to manage the team,” Woodard said. “Both need to be done. One man can’t do it.”
Kavanagh will team with Troy Mann, who replaced Ted Dent as the Inferno’s head coach on May 18, to get Columbia back to the ECHL playoffs. The Inferno missed the postseason for the first time in their five-year history last season.
“I think (it’s) a great hockey market here,” Kavanagh said. “With the tradition of last five years, with the one year excepted, it’s been a strong hockey team.”
A Massachusetts native, Kavanagh has also worked for the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack as well as the NHL’s Hartford Whalers, who have since relocated to become the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Kevin was selected from a field of very qualified candidates,” Inferno President Ezra Riber said “I am confident that Kevin will run a first-class operation in an effort to offer sports fans in the Midlands the best entertainment that hockey can provide.”
Woodard said its no coincidence the team has undergone a shake-up in its management after missing the playoffs for the first time.
“We’re accustomed to being there,” Woodard said. “I think the ownership felt the need to do that.”
Columbia went 25-39-8 last season, finishing seventh in the ECHL’s eight-team Southern Division.
However, Kavanagh expects the team to turn things around quickly next season.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that tough at all,” Kavanagh said. “Troy’s already working hard. Since he was an assistant last year, he had a great relationship with the guys who’ll be coming back. And he’s already got his list (of new players) going. With some of my experience from the AHL, we know where to look for these guys and know where to turn them up.”