Smoke Announce First Coach, Sign First Player

The Kansas City Smoke, one of the SHL expansion teams set to debut in 2018, held a press conference today at Heartland Telecom Center to introduce their coaching staff and their first-ever player.

“We know the fans are getting excited to see the team take the ice next season,” said Smoke GM Garth Melvin.  “So we’re excited to introduce them to some of the faces they’re going to see when they come to the arena.”

Randy Bergner

Kansas City’s new head coach will be a familiar face for fans of the SHL’s minor league.  Randy Bergner was the coach of the Omaha Ashcats, former affiliate of the Seattle Sailors.  Under Bergner’s leadership, the Ashcats finished with a 38-21-1 record, best in the league.  They were stunned in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Utah Owls.  Omaha will be Kansas City’s affiliate this coming season, and Bergner is excited to remain in the area and receive a promotion.

“When Garth called me and asked me to come in for an interview, I thought they were maybe looking at me to coach Omaha,” said Bergner.  “That sounded pretty great to me, because I’d enjoyed my time there and I wanted to stay.  But after we’d talked for a bit, I realized he was looking at me for the top job.  Even better!”

Bergner hopes to instill in the Smoke the same team-first spirit he oversaw with the Ashcats.  “We didn’t have a big star to build around in Omaha, so we focused on building a tight, cohesive unit,” Bergner told reporters.  “And that’s what I expect to do here.  That Three Musketeers all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude, that’s what we’re shooting for.”  The coach credited his assistant, Rex Claymore, with helping to create that spirit in Omaha; Claymore will join Bergner in KC.

Jon Rogers

Joining Bergner and Claymore at the press conference was the Smoke’s first official player: defenseman Jon Rogers.  The 22-year-old graduated from Minnesota State-Bemidji and went to training camp with Seattle on a professional tryout agreement, but failed to make the team.  He spent the season in the KHL instead, putting up 3 goals and 6 assists, but the British Columbia native was eager for an opportunity to return to North America.  Rogers is considered a stay-home blueliner who’s not afraid to scrap.

“I saw Jon in camp last season and I was impressed,” said Bergner.  “It was a numbers game when he got cut, but I definitely took his name down.  I felt he was a guy who could play at this level if he got a chance.  So when I got hired here, he was my first call.  After my wife, I mean.”

“I’m really grateful I made that much of an impression,” said Rogers.  “I’m honored to be the first official player for this franchise.  This is a terrific opportunity, and I hope I can make my career here.”

Melvin said that the coaches and player will spend the offseason visiting schools, shopping centers, and bars in the Kansas City area, meeting the locals and educating them about the Smoke and the SHL.  “We know the fans here might not be totally tuned in to hockey yet,” said Melvin.  “So we want to get out into the community, let ’em know we’re here, and get’ em fired up for the season to come.”


KC Expansion Team Unveils Name, Staff

The SHL expansion team taking the ice in Kansas City next season officially has a name: the Smoke.  The team also now has a president and a general manager, whom owner Hal Messinger introduced at a ceremony at the KC Live! event pavilion in the city’s downtown Power and Light District on Wednesday.

“We’re taking our first steps toward building a great organization that the whole Kansas City community can get behind,” said Messinger.

The team’s name was chosen from over 1,000 possibilities submitted by the fans.  Smoke won out over four other finalists: Crowns, Burnt Ends, Cougars, and Bluesmen.  The name “Smoke” obviously references Kansas City’s history as a barbecue mecca, but Messinger hopes the name will have a double meaning.  “We hope our players will be like smoke: elusive and hard to get hold of,” the owner said.

In addition to unveiling the team’s logo and distributing free merch to hundreds of excited fans, Messinger also introduced the team’s newly-hired general manager and president.

Garth Melvin

The Smoke’s GM will be veteran hockey executive Garth Melvin.  The 62-year-old Melvin has held various coaching and front-office positions for the last two decades, dating back to a stint as head coach of the ABA’s Long Beach Leopards back in the late ’90s.  Most recently, Melvin has been working in the league office as executive vice president of hockey operations, so he has a good sense of the league and its talent pool.

“I love jazz, blues, and ‘cue, so KC is my kind of town,” said Melvin, to wild applause from the crowd.  “I can’t wait to get to work putting together a team that can bring us home a trophy.”

Eddie Whitmore

Messinger’s choice for team president will make SHL history.  Eddie Whitmore is a Kansas City native who has been working as a vice president for Messinger’s basketball team, the Knights.  With his new position, he becomes the first African-American front-office executive in the SHL.

“When I was a kid growing up in Blue Hills, I never imagined that I would wind up doing something like this,” said Whitmore.  “I can’t even say it’s a dream come true, ’cause I never dreamed this was possible.”

Whitmore hopes to draw a diverse fan base to Smoke games.  “I want to smash the image of hockey as a white man’s sport,” said Whitmore.  “Kansas City is a wonderfully diverse place, and I want to draw all kinds of fans to our games.  I’ve got some ideas how to do that.  But the biggest thing we can do is create a team and experience that’s a lot of fun.  I want to make this team a happening in our community.”

The Smoke’s home arena, Heartland Telecom Center, is located right across the street from KC Live! in the heart of downtown.  “I can’t wait for next year when I can get off work, head over over to the Power and Light District, get a couple drinks and some great food, then go see a Smoke game,” said 33-year-old Billy Rockwell of nearby Independence.  “It’s going to be epic.”

SHL Expands to Boston, KC for ’18

Starlight Hockey LeagueThe SHL announced this week that it plans to expand to 12 teams for the 2018 season.  Commissioner Perry Mitchell held a press conference on Friday to reveal that the owners had voted to accept Boston and Kansas City as the next expansion pairing.

“Based on the tremendous success the league has had so far, we believe there’s an appetite for us to grow,” said Commissioner Mitchell.  “We are confident that we have a couple of strong, well-organized ownership groups and markets that will only make us stronger.”

The timing of the decision was a bit of a surprise.  The general consensus around the league was that expansion was likely in the coming seasons; however, it was reported that the owners were divided on which cities to add.  However, Commissioner Mitchell said that the vote was unanimous.  “When all was said and done,” the commissioner added, “these two bids stood head and shoulders above the rest.”  He noted that the timing was partially driven by a desire to give the new teams more time to prepare.  Last year’s decision to add the Quebec Tigres and Seattle Sailors was announced in midseason, and both organizations agreed that they felt rushed in getting their teams ready to take the ice this season.

boston-badgersThe East’s new addition will be the Boston Badgers.  Principal owner Paul Galette, an entrepreneur in both the media and fashion industries, is well-known within the league; he is a close associate of SHL co-founders Colin and Leslie Mills.  He was a finalist in last season’s expansion derby, although he ultimately lost out to Quebec.  This time, his bid won out over Baltimore and Cleveland, among other cities.

Galette is said to have helped design the team’s logo and uniforms.  He reportedly chose the “Badgers” name himself, having long had a fascination with the animal.  “Badgers are dangerous animals,” said Galette.  “If you’re smart, you won’t mess with them.  You can’t turn your back on them or they’ll claw your eyes out.  That’s exactly the kind of spirit we want to have on our team.”

The Badgers will play at Shawmut Arena in south Boston, conveniently located on the T.  “It’s going to be a place with a lot of great atmosphere, and people will love to watch games there,” Galette said.

Kansas City’s team, which will join the Western division, won out over reportedly strong bids from Chicago, Milwaukee, Portland, and San Francisco.  The team does not yet have a name; owner Hal Messinger said that he plans to let the fans submit names for the team and vote on the finalists.  “This team is going to be for the fans, and we want them involved every step of the way,” the owner said.

Messinger is a veteran of the sports business.  The agribusiness tycoon also owns the UBA’s Kansas City Knights, and he held a minority stake in baseball’s Kings, a team that played in the Mid-Western League for several seasons.  The new hockey team will play alongside the Knights at the Heartland Telecom Center, built in 2007 in the Power and Light District.  “The Power and Light District is the place to be in KC, and adding this new team will only make it that much more popular,” said Messinger.  “The entertainment options in this city are really taking off.”

The owners also voted to expand the playoffs to four teams beginning with the 2018 season.  “As the league gets bigger, it only seems fair to expand the playoff field as well,” said Commissioner Mitchell.  “Adding an extra round of playoff excitement will be a big hit with our fans.”