It's official, Snakes fans. The SPHL (remember, that's SOUTHERN Professional Hockey League) will trek northward this season. There will be 10 teams for the SPHL's 10th season. The teams just picked up some major road trips to Peoria and Bloomington, IL.
Next Wednesday, official announcements will be made in both cities and then the real work begins. Talk about trying to put together a puzzle...
One of the major attractions of the SPHL since its inception has been its business model. The salary cap, travel, etc were inviting to many ownership groups during tough economic times. Before the Illinois teams came on board, the "southern" part of the SPHL was already being challenged. NOT that I'm saying Fayetteville is in the northern part of our great country. Just sayin' that's it's FAR away from a number of the teams!
Before the Rivermen and Blaze were added, a major road trip for the Snakes was to Louisiana to the west and Fayetteville to the north. Piece of cake compared to hitting the road to Illinois. The IceGators and FireAntz will haul more than 867 miles to both Peoria and Bloomington. They're not the only ones, though. Looking at the numbers, five teams, including the Snakes have trips of over 750 miles from their home rink to Illinois. Yikes.
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I can't begin to think about assembling the 2013-2014 schedule. They always try to keep the mileage and costs equal. It'll be a real challenge this season.
In all likelihood, this will be the toughest season. It's no secret that the CHL is heading toward the iceberg. A number of teams are rumored to be interested in the SPHL. Good...because we need at least two. The only way this makes economic sense is for there to be three divisions: north, east and west. Four teams in each.
The regular season would be relatively easy as teams would play most games against division opponents. What happens come playoff time is anybody's guess. Something's got to give...either the season starts earlier or is shortened or the playoffs are lengthened. Not to muddy the waters, but my bet is that there's not an SPHL player, past, present or future, that wouldn't like to see the end of the three-game playoff series...haha.
Peeking into the future is fun to speculate about, but there's still plenty of work to do for this season. It's always exciting when new teams come in and new rivalries are born.
I must confess, I hate to see Augusta go. The RiverHawks are the Snakes' in-state rivals and fans of both teams really get into it. Though I won't soon forget my unfortunate experience with Augusta, I am truly sorry for the passionate fans in that city who have now lost hockey...twice. The optimists out there think the Hawks could return, but I'm not one of them. The issues are huge and complex. There's a ton of money involved. I would LOVE to be wrong and see Augusta back in 2014-2015.
In addition to identifying new teams next season. ya'all will have to buy a program to ID your Snakes. Lots of new faces headed to Columbus. Don't worry. Some of your favorites will be back, but, alas, many will not. Be on the lookout in the L-E and in this space for news of big comings and goings...