By Brandon M. Bickerstaff
The Sun Herald
BILOXI, Miss. – Katrina has knocked the Mississippi Sea Wolves off the ice, their first ECHL break since their inception in 1996.
Sea Wolves operating owner Mike Rogers announced Wednesday that the team will suspend all hockey operations for the 2005-06 season, but plans to return to action in the Mississippi Coast Coliseum the following year.
Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the Coliseum, including the team’s offices, locker rooms and ice-making equipment.
“I like to think of it as an extended offseason,” Rogers said. “I don’t like the term ‘going dark,’ because… we will still be operating.”
The Sea Wolves’ request to the ECHL Board of Governors for a voluntary suspension in 2005-06 is expected to be approved at the board’s preseason meeting September 22.
Rogers said the decision to cancel came after an attempted move to the Mobile Civic Center failed due to time constraints and a failure to secure adequate financial backing.
The Sea Wolves also petitioned the NHL Players Association for assistance, but following a conversation with ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna, Rogers said canceling the season seemed like his best option.
“If we had more time, maybe we could have pulled it off,” Rogers said. “Rather than being impatient, we figured we would wait and come back stronger than ever next season.”
All of the Sea Wolves’ staff will continue to work with the team, including bench boss Steffon Walby, who would have spent his first season as a head coach this year. Rogers said the team will continue to participate in its community service projects and will announce a new location and contact information soon. Those who have purchased season tickets may apply the funds to the following year or request a refund.
This year would have marked the Sea Wolves’ 10th anniversary in the Coliseum, where they won a Kelly Cup Championship in 1999. The team had also just signed a one-year lease with the Coliseum, an agreement Rogers said will be reworked to include the same terms but different dates.
The cancellation also comes just weeks after the team had announced its first affiliation with an NHL organization in four years, the New York Islanders. In a market in which the financial future is uncertain, Rogers vowed the team’s affiliation is as strong as ever, and his team would make a return to the Coliseum in 2006 to continue its decade celebration.
“The Sea Wolves as a team are rock solid,” he said. “We’re going to pick up where we left off.”