FanPost

Way Down on the Farm: A Blues Fan's Guide to the ECHL's Evansville IceMen

You just got out of a lengthy long-distance relationship, which started out great but fizzled over time. But now you've met someone new, and they live in your neighborhood. You're not quite sure what the future holds, but for now you're just excited about being involved with someone who's not half a world away. The good news is, you have a friend who knows your new fling quite well, and can help you navigate the unknown to reveal that yes, you two do have more in common than merely geographic proximity.

You are the Blues. Your ex is the Alaska Aces. Your new fling is the Evansville IceMen, the Blues' new ECHL affiliate. And I am your friend, the informant.

Who am I? Name's Michael, but you can call me Shocker. (The nick is a play on my last name, and what most IceMen fans call me.) I grew up in Indianapolis, I've lived in Evansville since 1999, and I have attended every home game in the (admittedly relatively brief) history of the Evansville IceMen. I'm also a lifelong fan of the Blues and Cardinals, and a frequent visitor to The Loo. And I've been a Game Time (and previously Game Night Revue) reader for years. I even have some old paper copies of the GNR framed as part of my Shrine to Jeffio stored away in a keepsake box.

I am the webmaster and lead writer for IceMenManiacs.com, the only (but we'll just say "best") IceMen fan site and blog on the internets. We also have a Facebook page and an old-school message board, for those who need more ways to kill time at work.

When the Blues/Rivermen/IceMen affiliation was announced, I got in touch with Gallagher and Brad Lee and offered to help introduce Evansville and the IceMen to Blues fans. (If you're going to jump in bed with someone, you may as well know a little something about them.) Brad graciously accepted my offer, so if you don't like me, blame him.

Anyhoo, enough with the exposition. Let's commence with Evansville & IceMen 101...

• First off, Evansville is in Indiana. Yes, I know the vast majority of you probably already know that. But some guy on the Blues' Facebook page actually asked "is this in Illinois?" Let's just assume he's a Red Wings fan.


• Secondly, no, I don't know where the term "Hoosier" comes from either. And no, Indiana isn't just miles and miles of corn fields. We grow soybeans too.

• Evansville is about a 3-hour drive from St. Louis. Hop on I-64 and go east. Just make sure to take a leak and top off your gas in Mount Vernon, because there ain't a damn thing between there and Evansville in southeastern Illinois. After you cross the Wabash, go south on US 41 (make sure to take Exit 25A because Exit 25B sends you on a journey toward Terre Haute and I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy), enjoy a few more miles of corn fields agricultural diversity, and you'll know you're in Evansville when you hit a stoplight every 27 feet.

• When the Blues joined the NHL in 1967, Evansville didn't even have an ice rink. The city's first permanent recreational rink was built in 1978, when the original Swonder Ice Rink opened. It was demolished in 2002 when the current Swonder Ice Arena opened. For reference, the new Swonder is somewhat similar to the US Ice Sports Complex or the Hardee's IcePlex, or whatever they're calling the Chesterfield rink this week.

• Like St. Louis and Peoria, Evansville is a "river city." We're actually the fourth-largest city along the nearly thousand-mile Ohio River. The biggest is home to one of the four NHL teams always chosen for NBC broadcasts.

• Evansville's top riverfront attractions are Casino Aztar and the LST 325. The latter is an actual World War II ship, one of the last surviving operational LSTs ("Landing Ship, Tanks") from the war. During the war, Evansville produced more LSTs than any other inland city. Today, the LST 325 (which doubles as a museum/memorial and offers regular tours) docks on the the Ohio at the eastern edge of Downtown Evansville. So if Indiana ever decides to invade Kentucky, we're off to a good start.

• Evansville gets the vast majority of Blues (and Cards) games via Fox Sports Midwest. Even though it's still in its infancy as a hockey market, there are actually a LOT of hockey fans in the area and the Blues are arguably the city's favorite NHL team. Yeah, there are a fair number of fans of Nashville and Detroit and Chicago too, but it's not at all uncommon to see Blues jerseys at IceMen games.

So about those IceMen...

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• For starters, I should clarify that "IceMen" (with the "M" capitalized) is indeed the correct typography. The team's logo has always had the "M" as one of the smallest letters, but the franchise has always used "IceMen" in all official capacities. But don't ask me why the logo's wordmark ends with a giant lower-case "n" because I don't get it either. Perhaps it was designed by the same person who makes the Blue Jackets' jersey nameplates.

• Affiliating with the Blues is fitting, since "blues" is the perfect description of the IceMen color palette - navy, sky, and white. (Black and gray are not officially among the team's colors, despite their prominence in the logo.) The team's jersey suite consists of white (worn at home before the All-Star break), navy (worn at home after the All-Star break), and sky (the "third" jersey worn at home randomly) designs. If you checked out the jersey suite photo, you probably noticed that the sky and navy designs are ripoffs of tributes to the Pittsburgh Penguins' 2008 and 2011 Winter Classic jerseys.

• The IceMen have existed since way back in 2008, when Erik Johnson's golf adventure converted him from budding superstar to relentless punchline. I'll spare you the team history and just ask you to read the IceMenManiacs.com "About the IceMen" section. Go on, I'll wait. It isn't very long. (That's what she said.)

• The 2012-13 season will be Evansville's first in the ECHL and second at the Ford Center, which opened last fall. The downtown arena seats a maximum of about 9400 for hockey, when the upper bowl (which is horseshoe-shaped like the 300 level at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena) is not curtained off. The $127 million Ford Center was designed by Populous, the same architectural firm that drew up Busch Stadium III.

• IceMen fans are lovingly known as "Maniacs" - hence IceMenManiacs.com and the IceMen Maniacs Booster Club. The term came into use during the team's first season, when some of the die-hards started wearing facepaint and blue wigs to home games. (It's now a common practice.) Section 117 at the Ford Center, where many of the longtime fans sit at home games, has become known as "The Asylum." For its part, the booster club offers a free Home Game Chants & Taunts list and has sold thousands of miniature blue cowbells, which greatly enhances the atmosphere at IceMen games. It also pisses off visiting fans of the opposition, which is always a bonus.

• The IceMen formerly used Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll (Part 2)" as the team's goal song. Fans chanted "hey, you suck" and "we're gonna beat the puck outta you" to the beat. But then the organization changed the goal song because a few oversensitive (and apparently hard-of-hearing) newcomers thought "puck" was another much-nastier word and complained about it. The song switch remains a bone of contention among IceMen fans, so much so that many of the fans now sing "RRP2" a cappella (complete with the "you suck" chants) after play resumes following each IceMen goal.

Rich Kromm is entering his third season as the head coach and general manager of the IceMen. Before taking up coaching, Kromm scored 173 points in 372 career NHL games with the Flames and Islanders, and was part of the infamous Easter Epic 4-OT game between the Islanders and Capitals in the 1987 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Kromm's late father Bobby was also a coach, and a damn good one. Bobby Kromm won the Jack Adams Award in 1978 as Detroit's coach, just two seasons after leading the Winnipeg Jets to the 1976 Avco Cup title in the WHA. While Bobby was coaching the great Bobby Hull in Winnipeg, Rich played youth hockey with Bobby's son Brett. Ever heard of him?

• Perhaps the most popular current IceMen player is All-Star defenseman Matt Gens, who is both potent offensively (47 points in 64 games last season) and responsible defensively. Gens is also a physical presence, his trademark being a wicked hip check that can be unleashed either along the boards or in open ice. Last season, the open-ice variety angered a Rapid City Rush fan so much that the guy broke the glass with his bare hands. Off the ice, Gens is also a talented acoustic guitarist and singer (with some beatboxing thrown in) and a pretty entertaining amateur auctioneer. Once he's done with hockey, there's a decent chance that a desperate NBC will offer Gens a deal to do his own one-man variety show. If there still is an NBC by then, I mean.

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Evansville may not be a "sexy" city or affiliate, but it really is a nice place (I came here for college and loved it so much that I decided to stay here) and a rapidly-growing hockey market. I think the Blues organ-I-zation and Blues fans will be very happy with the IceMen as their ECHL partner, and I encourage all Blues fans to come over for a visit sometime. The people here are incredibly friendly (sometimes to a fault), IceMen home games are a lot of fun and a great value (click here for ticket and arena info), and there are plenty of other things to do around town while you're in the area. IceMen fans are excited about this affiliation and hopeful that it will become a long-term relationship, and I hope Blues fans will soon feel the same way.

Before I wrap this up, I do want to recommend that you bookmark IceMenManiacs.com and "like" us on Facebook. We'll keep you up to speed about Blues prospects in the ECHL and everything else IceMen.

And if you have any questions about the team or the city, feel free to drop me an e-mail (see the profile) or sound off in the comments. I'll be happy to help out however I can. Because I'm from Evansville, and "Hoosier Hospitality" isn't just a catchphrase.

Now, for my parting words, we return to your regularly-scheduled sarcasm. With a nod to GT's love of Top 11 lists, I leave you with...

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11. The Blues were previously affiliated with the ECHL's Alaska Aces. The IceMen share an arena with the University of Evansville's Purple Aces, whose mascot is a turn-of-the-century riverboat gambler named "Ace Purple." Yes, we're that creative in Evansville. How else do you think we came up with "IceMen" for a team of men playing a sport on ice?

10. The University of Missouri-St. Louis is a member of the NCAA Division II Great Lakes Valley Conference. In Evansville, the University of Southern Indiana is also a member of the GLVC and a perennial power in men's basketball. The USI athletic teams are known as the Screaming Eagles, because the "name the team" contest was won by Craig T Nelson.

9. St. Louis is the home of Anheuser-Busch, a global producer of adult beverages with gross annual revenues exceeding $15 billion. Evansville is the home of the Tin Man Brewing Company, a new local micro brewery with gross annual revenues, um, slightly below A-B's.

8. The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair is generally credited as having popularized then-new foods such as waffle cones, cotton candy, and peanut butter. Evansville's West Side Nut Club Fall Festival, held annually since 1924 during the first full week of October, is sometimes touted as the nation's second-largest annual street festival (behind only Mardi Gras) and often credited as America's best present-day source for brain sandwiches. Really. No joke here. I'm serious. Stop throwing up.

7. The St. Louis Cardinals are one of baseball's most storied teams. The independent Frontier League's Evansville Otters (rivals of the Gateway Grizzlies and River City Rascals) play their home games at Bosse Field, one of baseball's most storied buildings. Built in 1915, Bosse Field is the fifth-oldest professional ballpark in America. It was a primary filming location for many of the game scenes in A League of Their Own, which also happens to be the title of an upcoming documentary about the only way the Cubs will ever win another championship.

6. The St. Louis metro area is known to some as the home of Bigfoot, the world-famous monster truck that weighs more than 9000 pounds. The Evansville metro area was ranked in 2011 as the country's most obese city, so around here we refer to 9000 pounds as "a New Year's resolution."

5. St. Louis' Forest Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States, and is even bigger than New York's Central Park. Evansville's Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve contains the largest tract of virgin forest (over 190 acres) located inside any city limits in the United States. Preservationists fear that the forest is still a virgin only because TJ Oshie has not yet paid it a visit.

4. St. Louis was home to the NFL's Cardinals for 28 seasons, and the Rams have been in town since 1995. Back in the early days of the NFL, Evansville was actually a part of the league as well. The Evansville Crimson Giants played in the NFL in 1921 and 1922, with the team's home games at the aforementioned Bosse Field. In 2011, the old ballpark hosted its first football game in decades, a high school game between Evansville Memorial and a Metro East school that's familiar to many Blues fans, Belleville West. Of course, the "throwback" game did not feature "throwback" concession prices.

3. The St. Louis riverfront is the home of a casino and hotel called Lumière Place, which gets its name from the French for "light." The Evansville riverfront is the home of a Casino Aztar hotel called Le Merigot, which is the French for "The Merigot." My high school French teacher would be so proud of me right now.

2. About 30 miles from Downtown St. Louis is Eureka, home of Six Flags St. Louis. About 40 miles from Downtown Evansville is Santa Claus, home of Holiday World. Yes, the town is actually named Santa Claus. I even got married there. Why are you laughing?

1. The most-hated rival for the Blues is the Detroit Red Wings, one of the NHL's most historic franchises. The most-hated rival for the IceMen is the Fort Wayne Komets, one of minor league hockey's most historic franchises. Fort Wayne fans are always happy to discuss the importance of today's game against your team IF the Komets won it. But if they lost, today is meaningless and it's all about past successes. "How many championships have YOU won?" Sound familiar?

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Bleeding IceMen Blue (a.k.a. "Shocker" to Evansville IceMen fans)
IceMenManiacs.com Webmaster and Senior Writer

Please make sure that any content you post is appropriate to Game Time, which means that it pertains to hockey, the Blues, frosty adult beverages, or puppies.

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