|Southern Professional Hockey League|
|No. of teams||11 (2021-22)|
|Most recent champion(s)||Peoria Rivermen (2022)|
|Most championship(s)||Knoxville Ice Bears, Pensacola Ice Flyers (4)|
The Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) is a minor league level of professional ice hockey league based in Charlotte, North Carolina, with teams located primarily in the southeastern United States with some teams based in the Midwest.
The SPHL's history traces back to three other short-lived leagues. The Atlantic Coast Hockey League started play in the 2002–03 season. After its only season, the ACHL dissolved with member teams forming the nucleus for two rival leagues, the South East Hockey League and the World Hockey Association 2. After one season the SEHL and WHA2 disbanded, with their surviving teams rejoining with two expansion teams to form the SPHL, commencing with the 2004–05 season.
The league's initial season consisted of eight teams, the Asheville Aces, Columbus Cottonmouths, Fayetteville FireAntz, Huntsville Havoc, Jacksonville Barracudas,Knoxville Ice Bears, Macon Trax, and the Winston-Salem Polar Twins.
The Asheville, Macon, and Winston-Salem franchises folded after the 2004-05 season. The league added the Pee Dee Cyclones based out of Florence, South Carolina and the Florida Seals for the 2005-06 season. The Seals were originally based out of Orlando and then moved to Kissimmee before playing.
Prior to the 2008-09 season the Jacksonville Barracudas suspended operations. The franchise would be formally disolved in 2010.
In 2009, the SPHL saw a large expansion as three new franchises in Biloxi, Mississippi, Lafayette, Louisiana and Pensacola, Florida, all three of which were former ECHL markets within the past five years that produced competitive teams, each of which either won the league's championship or regular season title. The league also lost the Richmond Renegades and the Twin City Cyclones both of which folded.
The Augusta RiverHawks joined the league for the 2010-11 season.
For the 2011–12 season, the league added 2-time Central Hockey League champions, the Mississippi RiverKings. The league was also supposed to add the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs from the Central Hockey League, but they folded prior to playing in the SPHL.
For the 2013-14 season the league added the Peoria Rivermen to the league, replacing the city's departed American Hockey League franchise. The league also added the Bloomington Blaze from the Central Hockey League, however the franchise was renamed the Bloomington Thunder after legal action by the CHL over the use of the Blaze nickname. The Augusta RiverHawks were forced to it out the 2013-14 season due to a malfunction of the ice system at the James Brown Arena in late February that forced the RiverHawks to play the remainder of their home games at their practice facility.
After 2013-14 season the Mississippi Surge announced that they would be suspending operations indefinitely. The Bloomington Thunder terminated their membership in the league to make way for a team in the USHL,with the same name which was awarded April 15, 2014. Published reports in June indicated that a new ownership group was trying to put together a new franchise to take the place of the Surge in the Mississippi Coast Coliseum, possibly in time for the 2014-15 season. The new ownership came together in mid-July of 2014, but they have deferred to start play until the 2015-16 season
After sitting out the 2013-14 season, and negotiations with arena management at an impasse the ownership off the Augusta Riverhawks found a new home in Macon, Georgia signing a 5 year lease on June 25, 2014 to play at the Macon Coliseum and being renamed the Macon Mahyhem starting with the 2015-16 season.
On Ocotober 20, 2015 the league announced that the franchise rights for the former Mississippi Surge had been sold to Breakaway Sports and Entertainment, LLC and would be relocated to the Berglund Center in Roanoke, Virginia. The team will take to the ice for the 2016-17 season. The team announced it would be called the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs.
The Evansville IceMen of the ECHL announced they would relocate to Owensboro, Kentucky for the 2016-17 season. The team needed to put in extensive repairs to the arena that they will be playing in the Owensboro Sportscenter. The team later decided to take the 2016-17 season off in order to complete the renovations; however, the IceMen would ultimately relocate to Jacksonville, Florida to become the Jacksonville IceMen. The ownership of the arena in Evansville immediately began working on obtaining an expansion franchise in the Southern Professional Hockey League which came to fruition on March 16th.
On May 16, 2016 the Louisiana IceGators organization announced that the team would be suspending operations due to renovations at the Cajundome. The renovations are scheduled to be completed by the end of November 2016; and limited dates were available during the month of December. The team looked at several options including playing the first two plus months on the road or using an other venue in Louisiana for their home games. The team's management concluded "at this time suspending operations for this season would be the best route to take." The IceGators' franchise was sold and reactivated as the Quad City Storm in 2018.
Also in 2016, the dormant Mississippi Surge franchise was relocated to Southwest Virginia to become the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs. One of the inaugural SPHL teams, the Columbus Cottonmouths, suspended operations in 2017 after failing to find a buyer while an expansion team called the Birmingham Bulls were accepted into the league as the tenth team. Following the 2017–18 season, the Mississippi RiverKings suspended operations while the league searched for new owners. With the acceptance of the Quad City Storm, the league was able to remain at ten teams for the 2018–19 season.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2019–20 season was curtailed and no champion was named. The following season, the league announced it would only play with five of the ten member teams due to pandemic-related capacity restrictions barring fans from attending games. During the season, the league approved of the Vermilion County Bobcats as a 2021–22 expansion team based in Danville, Illinois.
Note: Some teams in the league originated in other leagues or relocated; hence the two separate columns for Founded and Joined.
Present Teams (2021-22)
|Birmingham Bulls||Pelham, Alabama||Pelham Civic Center||2017|
|Evansville Thunderbolts||Evansville, Indiana||Ford Center||2016|
|Fayetteville FireAntz||Fayetteville, North Carolina||Cumberland County Crown Coliseum||2002||2004|
|Huntsville Havoc||Huntsville, Alabama||Von Braun Center||2004|
|Knoxville Ice Bears||Knoxville, Tennessee||Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Coliseum||2002||2004|
|Macon Mayhem||Macon, Georgia||Macon Coliseum||2010*||2015|
|Pensacola Ice Flyers||Pensacola, Florida||Pensacola Bay Center||2009|
|Peoria Rivermen||Peoria, Illinois||Carver Arena||2013|
|Quad City Storm||Moline, Illinois||TaxSlayer Center||2018*|
|Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs||Roanoke, Virginia||Berglund Center||2009*|
|Vermilion County Bobcats||Danville, Illinois||David S. Palmer Arena||2021|
* - Represents a franchise move.
All-time Chronological List of Teams
Note:teams that sat out the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic are not included as missing any time in the league.
Key rule differences
As per minor leagues, there are some rule differences between the SPHL and the NHL (and even the ECHL and AHL, the two official developmental leagues regulated by the Professional Hockey Players Association).
- A team may dress sixteen regular players to a game. Two players dressed for the game will be goaltenders.
- There is no trapezoid restriction limiting the goaltender playing the puck and is eligible to play the puck anywhere on his side of the center red line.
- A mouthpiece is required for all players except the goaltender.
- No curvature of stick limitations as in the NHL, AHL, and ECHL.
- Shootouts are five players (as in the ECHL and AHL).
- All overtime periods in the regular season are between three skaters per team and the goaltender (3 on 3, compared to 4 on 4 in other leagues). Penalty rules differ during the overtime:
- During the first three minutes of overtime, in case of a penalty, the non-offending team is awarded one extra skater per penalty (up to two extra, five total).
- In the final two minutes, any minor penalty results in an automatic penalty shot.
William B. Coffey Trophy
Originally known as the Commissioner's Cup, the regular season trophy was renamed in honor of league co-founder William B. Coffey during the 2007–08 season.
- Giardina, A.J. (April 9, 2009). Local investors may bring another hockey team to the coast. WLOX-TV. Retrieved on April 10, 2009.
- Blakeney, Jason (April 30, 2009). Hockey's Back!. Pensacola News Journal. Retrieved on April 30, 2009.
- "Mississippi RiverKings Join SPHL For 2011-2012 Season", Press release, Southern Professional Hockey League, June 13, 2011. Retrieved on June 13, 2011. Archived from the original on 13 June 2011.
- Van Tuyl, Chris. "Mississippi RiverKings announce change to Southern Professional Hockey League", 13 June 2011. Retrieved on 13 June 2011. Archived from the original on 13 June 2011.
- Mississippi Riverkings suspend operations for 2018-19 season, will seek new ownership (May 24, 2018).
- SPHL announces changes for 2020-2021 season (October 6, 2020).
- SPHL Expanding to Danville, IL for 2021-2022 Season (March 10, 2021).
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