By Doug Barber
The Sun Herald
BILOXI, Miss. — The Mississippi Sea Wolves welcomed back a familiar face to the Coast on Thursday afternoon.
And they welcomed a new National Hockey League affiliation at the same time.
The Sea Wolves announced veteran defenseman and fan favorite Chris Cava as their first signee for the 2007-08 ECHL season. Cava started the 2006-07 season with the Trenton Titans, and finished the season with the ECHL Phoenix Roadrunners. He played with the Sea Wolves for three straight seasons (2002-05).
The Sea Wolves will be the ECHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won the Stanley Cup in 2004. The Sea Wolves had a short-lived affiliation with the New York Islanders, which was terminated with the landfall of Hurricane Katrina on the Coast. The Sea Wolves have been affiliated with other NHL teams during their 10-year history.
“This is a long-awaited day,” Sea Wolves head coach and general manager Steffon Walby said. “We have our first player under contract. I played alongside Chris. He will bring a ton of leadership into the locker room.
“The game today is a lot faster (than two years ago). There is a little more speed, which means the hits are harder. Chris likes to mix it up.”
Cava, 27, is entering his seventh pro season and has appeared in 335 ECHL regular season games.
“We are going to have a high-energy team,” Cava said. “I’m looking forward to getting the first win at home. There will be so much energy that first game, with a sold-out Coliseum.”
Lightning assistant general manager Claude Loiselle was one of the two Tampa Bay representatives at Thursday’s news conference. He said the attractiveness of the Coast will help in luring free agents to the NHL franchise. And so will success.
“I told Steffon that one of the important things in player development is winning,” Loiselle said. “The ECHL is an important stepping-stone between junior hockey and the American Hockey League.”
The Sea Wolves will have five to six players under contract with Tampa Bay, depending on injuries. Norfolk is Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate.
The twin announcements, ironically, came on the day after the Anaheim Mighty Ducks won the Stanley Cup, defeating the Ottawa Senators. Former Sea Wolves player Francois Beauchemin helped Anaheim win the championship.