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 Will Birmingham join the South East Hockey League in 2004?

 
  

April 2004

  
         
    The South East Hockey League issued a news release stating that the original four franchises - the Huntsville Channel Cats, Cape Fear Fire Antz, Knoxville Ice Bears and Winston-Salem T-Birds - have each sent letters committing to play in the league during the 2004-2005 season.

An official with the league also unofficially reports that they have written commitments from expansion teams that will be located in Birmingham and Columbus (GA). The Columbus Cottonmouths were members of the East Coast Hockey League before withdrawing last year.

The commitment for Birmingham comes from an organization named Bulls Pro Hockey. Their goal is to play in the Pelham Civic Complex. Currently, the Alabama Slammers of the World Hockey Association 2 plays at the Pelham arena.

Mike Zruna, president of Bulls Pro Hockey, said in a letter dated April 10 that he received the membership agreement to join the league.

Zruna is a former head coach of the Birmingham Bulls of the East Coast Hockey League. He coached the 2000-2001season, the Bulls final season in Birmingham. They were then moved to Atlantic City (NJ).

  
         
  

June 2004

  
         
    It is reported that the South Eastern Hockey League recently purchased the rights to the "Bulls" name and insignia. Also, Pelham mayor Bobby Hayes will meet with the league to discuss a lease on the Pelham Civic Center's arena.

Art Clarkson, former owner of the East Coast Hockey League's Birmingham Bulls, is involved with the league in an unknown capacity. Clarkson said that if the league grants a franchise to the city, there is a strong change it will be known as the Bulls. "The word 'Bulls' is synonymous with hockey in the Birmingham area," Clarkson said.

Jim Riggs, SEHL commissioner, says the league is hopeful a team can be placed in the city. "We are very committed to being in the city of Pelham for 2004-2005," Riggs said. Riggs also indicated that that the league would like to put two more franchises in Alabama. Huntsville and Mobile are the two most likely cities.

  
         
    The South East Hockey League announces that it will place an expansion franchise in Pelham for the upcoming 2004-2005 season. The team will play its home games at the Pelham Civic Complex.

The expansion team will be known as the Bulls, the nickname most synonymous with successful professional hockey in the area dating back to 1976. Team logo, colors and schedule will be announced shortly.

  
         
    The SEHL and the city of Pelham have agreed in principal to a lease for the next two years. The only item remaining is for the lease to be signed by Pelham mayor Bobby Hayes and the Bulls ownership group, the members of which have yet to be made public.

John Cherney, president of the SEHL, said securing the Birmingham team was critical to the league's success this year. "This is good news. It's good to continue hockey on in Birmingham," Cherney said.

However, a major clause in the lease stipulates that the league must have at least six members for the lease to be valid. Three cities have previously committed; Huntsville (AL), Cape Fear (NC) and Knoxville (TN). Cherney says that Columbus (GA) and Tupelo (MS) are close to reaching agreements to play.

  
         
  

July 2004

  
         
    Southern Professional Hockey League logoThe formation of the Southern Professional Hockey League is announced. The teams will be a combination of franchises from the Southern Hockey League (Orlando, Jacksonville, Huntsville, Asheville and Winston-Salem) and the South East Hockey League (Cape Fear and Knoxville). Columbus and Macon are two other cities expected to receive teams.

Keith Jeffries, president of the Huntsville Havoc, said the SPHL is open to adding the Bulls or the Alabama Slammers to the league as its Pelham franchise. "We're hoping the (Bulls) ownership group there or the Alabama Slammers will get something done in Pelham," Jeffries said.

The SEHL will certainly increase its efforts to secure a team in Pelham but there is no chance, according to SEHL president John Cherney, that the leagues will combine. "Our model is totally different (from the SPHL's model). We believe in our model because we can make money," Cherney said.

The SEHL is in fact debt-free. Its players have received paychecks, insurance coverage is in place, and the league even "made a profit last year" according to Cherney. The same can't be said of other minor leagues. "Look what happened to Waronker's (league)," Cherney said.

  
         
    It appears there will be no SEHL team in the city for 2004-2005. A stipulation in the arena lease required the league have at least six teams by July 15th. Earlier in the summer the league had four cities, including Pelham, but the creation of the SPHL has had a drastic effect on the SEHL.

"I can't answer (whether or not there will be hockey in Pelham). I put in the contract (with the Bulls) that we had to have six cities. As far as I'm concerned that contract is null and void," said Pelham mayor Bobby Hayes.

SEHL president John Cherney still hopes the league can secure six teams for the upcoming season. If this happens, the chance for a team to play in Pelham would still be alive. Cherney declined to name the teams that he thinks he can persuade to play in the SEHL, but he believes that everything should be settled by August 1st.

  
         
  

Epilogue

  
         
      Against all odds, the Southern Professional Hockey League began play in October 2004 with eight teams and managed to finish the season. Officials hope they remain a viable minor league.   
         
 
 

 Other Sites of Interest

   The Southern Professional Hockey League  
 
 
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Last Update: October 17, 2006