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Will Birmingham join the South East Hockey League?


April 20, 2004
    Photograph
  Mike Zruna
   
The South East Hockey League issued a news release stating that the original four franchises - 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 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 10th 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 2000-01 season, the Bulls final season in Birmingham. The franchise was then purchased and moved to Atlantic City.


June 7, 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 ECHL'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 chance it will be known as the Bulls. "The word 'Bulls' is synonymous with hockey in the Birmingham area."

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 2004-05." 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.

June 11, 2004
The South East Hockey League announces that it will place an expansion franchise in Pelham for the upcoming 2004-05 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.

June 25, 2004
The South East Hockey League 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."

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

July 1, 2004
     Southern Professional Hockey League logo
   
The formation of the Southern Professional Hockey League is announced. The league 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.

The Southern Hockey League is the new name for the Eastern Hockey League, which had to change its name to avoid confusion with the East Coast Hockey League. Oddly enough, the EHL was the short-lived new name for the former World Hockey Association 2.

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."

The SEHL will certainly increase its efforts to secure a team in Pelham. However, Cherney believes there is no chance 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."

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

July 24, 2004
It appears there will be no South East Hockey League team in the city for 2004-05. A stipulation in the arena lease required the league to have at least six teams by July 15th. Earlier in the summer the league had four cities, including Pelham, but the creation of the Southern Professional Hockey League has had a drastic effect on the SEHL.

Pelham mayor Bobby Hayes is unsure of his city's status regarding hockey. "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."

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
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 hockey league for years to come.

Fate was not as fortunate for the South East Hockey League, as they were not able to secure the teams they would need to continue playing. After playing only one season, the SEHL died a quiet death.
 
 
 
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Last update: August 20, 2018