The next hockey franchise in Evansville will be part of the North Carolina-based Southern Professional Hockey League. During a Monday news conference, Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said local businessman Mike Hall has entered into an agreement to play in the Ford Center.
The team will debut in the SPHL in the 2016-2017 season.
Winnecke also thanked the Evansville IceMen for nine years of representing what he called the "hockey town." He said "three years ago, hockey fans recorded the highest attendance in the city’s hockey history, while playing in the Central Hockey League (CHL) at the Ford Center. As the SPHL is the most comparable league, Evansville now has the opportunity to make professional hockey successful again for both the city and the team ownership."
The SPHL is in its 12th season and currently has 10 teams including: Columbus Cottonmouths, Fayetteville FireAntz, Huntsville Havoc, Knoxville Ice Bears, Louisiana IceGators, Macon Mayhem, Mississippi RiverKings, Pensecola Ice Flyers, Peoria Rivermen and the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs.
New owner Mike Hall said "as a local hockey fan, I am honored to play an integral part of the next chapter in Evansville’s hockey history. My family’s investment is a testament to my belief that the SPHL model works and will produce an entertaining and competitive hockey experience at the Ford Center."
The owner of the IceMen, Ron Geary, and the city had been in contract talks for months in an attempt to keep the team at the Ford Center. The new deal among the SPHL, the city and the arena’s management group, VenueWorks, spells the end for the IceMen in Evansville. Geary also owns Ellis Park, which is a horseracing venue across the river in Henderson, Kentucky. In multiple public statements, Geary claimed the city was presenting a deal that was too expensive for the organization and did not match the agreement originally reached when the team played in the first sporting event at the Ford Center in November 2011.
The league says its mission is to provide quality entertainment with an economic model "that is viable for small and mid-size markets and arenas."
The team and the SPHL will soon launch a contest to name the team. Tickets are set to go on sale in March.