With Mayhem, the Columbus-Macon hockey rivalry is rekindled

rseibel@macon.com kprice@ledger-enquirer.comJune 25, 2014 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Columbus Cottonmouths goalie Andrew Loewen deflects a shot on goal in the first period against Huntsville Thursday at the Columbus Civic Center. 04.03.14

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

The last time teams from Columbus and Macon were on the ice at the same time was in 2005. Columbus finished a sweep of Macon to win the inaugural championship of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

The rivalry will be rekindled next year when the Macon Mayhem join the SPHL for the 2015-16 season. Mayhem owner Bob Kerzner held a public lease signing event Wednesday at the Macon Marriott City Center. The Macon-Bibb County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a 5-year lease last week for the team to play in the Macon Centreplex.

The team's former home was in Augusta but faced with a lack of ice at his team's former home arena, Kerzner began a search last year for a new place to play.

"The process was simple," Kerzner said. "Basically, you need ice to play ice hockey. And Augusta's pipes rotted out. … It was going to take $1.2 million to replace.

"We began looking at alternatives. We went to Greensboro (North Carolina), we called Tallahassee (Florida). There were a lot of different places that we were looking at. Then we found out that Macon had called."

The rivalry between the Columbus and Macon teams began when both joined the Central Hockey League in 1996.

"This is great news for the league and the Cottonmouths. The rivalry goes way back and it is something that everyone always talks about," Columbus coach and general manager Jerome Bechard said. "Obviously, I was a big part of that, and it was pretty special to always come out on top. We are going to have regrow that rivalry, and teach our players the past and instill that animosity in our teams. I think to grow that rivalry we will maybe do a special rate ticket to encourage our fans to travel to Macon and vice versa to fan the flames per se.

"You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and with the Macon Franchise taking a whole year to prepare and do things right, it's going to be great."

The Mayhem, known as the RiverHawks during its time in Augusta, will play a 56-game schedule, with 28 of those games to be played at the Coliseum.

Kerzner, who is also the owner of two McDonald's franchises in South Carolina, said the average player salary in the SPHL is $325 a week. The team can carry three veterans, defined by those who have played more than 225 professional games.

Kerzner said he expects to hire a head coach soon after the 2014-15 season concludes.

The SPHL will downsize to eight teams for the 2014-15 season. Bloomington and the Mississippi Surge will not compete in the upcoming season. Bechard said the SPHL will be looking to add another team for the 2015-16 season to bring the league back to 10 teams.

In addition to Columbus, the SPHL will have teams in the following teams for the 2014-15 season, which begins in October: The Pensacola (Fla.) Ice Flyers, Fayetteville (N.C.) FireAntz, Huntsville (Ala.) Havoc, Knoxville (Tenn.) Ice Bears, Louisiana IceGators, Mississippi RiverKings and Peoria (Ill.) Rivermen.

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