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 Team and League History


January 1991

    East Coast Hockey League logoArt Clarkson, former owner of the Southern League's Birmingham Barons, says he has his sights set on bringing a hockey team to Birmingham. Clarkson's desire is to bring an East Coast Hockey League franchise to the city. "We've talked, but that's about all. It's not something I'm really pushing. I think it's a sweet little deal that I'd like to be involved in. But if it doesn't work, then I'll walk away without a problem," Clarkson said.

The ECHL began play three years ago and is currently run by Commissioner Pat Kelly, who was a head coach during the first year of the World Hockey Association's Birmingham Bulls in 1976.

Clarkson is impressed by what he's seen of the new league. "I like the league. They are trying to do it the right way. The franchise fee is low ($100,000), and the season would not conflict with baseball. That's one reason I didn't want to become involved with the (World Football League's Birmingham Fire) football team here. It would bump heads with the baseball team," Clarkson said. The ECHL plays a sixty-four game schedule that ends by the middle of April. 

"I think we could make a go of it in Birmingham. I think there's a market for it. I just hope we get a chance to give it a shot," Clarkson said.

If Clarkson is successful, there will be no 'name the team' contest, however. Clarkson says the team would be named the Birmingham Bulls.

    Clarkson announces that he has officially submitted a franchise application to the ECHL. 

"Getting hockey on the ice depends on three things. One, getting the franchise. Two, working out an agreement with the Civic Center. Three, establishing working agreements with at least two National Hockey League teams. I'm optimistic about all three. I have talked with other leagues, but I want in the East Coast League," Clarkson said. 

Civic Center Director Jack Boggan confirmed that he has spoken with Clarkson. "We're in the process of attempting to negotiate a contract with Art. We'd be delighted to have hockey back, and the East Coast Hockey League is a stable minor league. I haven't heard anything else from the league that came in here last year (the Global Hockey League). They haven't bothered to follow up on anything with us since the league decided not to operate this season," Boggan said.


March 1991

    Clarkson says his bid for an ECHL franchise has met with some resistance because Birmingham is too far away from the rest of the league for some of the owners. "Basically, I'd say the chance for hockey in Birmingham for 1991-92 is really remote. That doesn't man we won't pursue it. Our bid wasn't voted down, just put on the shelf. Everything was in order with our bid, but the opposition is to location. The response locally has been unbelievable. I know hockey can be - will be - successful in Birmingham. I've set April 1 as the drop-dead date for getting a franchise for next year," Clarkson said.   

February 1992

    Roanoke Valley Rebels logoHenry Brabham, owner of the ECHL's Roanoke Valley Rebels, says he is negotiating the sale of his club with two different parties, both of whom want to move the franchise to Birmingham. Brabham cited poor attendance and increasing costs in the fast-growing ECHL as the prime reasons. The Rebels ranked second from last in total attendance. 

He has received offers from former Greensboro Monarchs owner Bill Coffey and current Nashville Knights owner Godfrey Wood. Wood is representing a group headed by Cincinnati Cyclones owners Ron Fuller, Doug Kyrchhofer and Bob Polk. 

The amount of both bids is believed to be around $250,000. Brabham says that both offers will be taken to the ECHL's board this week for a vote.


July 1992


Cincinnati Cyclones logoIt is announced that Birmingham will be fielding a team in the East Coast Hockey League for the 1992-93 season. The Cincinnati Cyclones, the ECHL's most successful team last year, will be relocating to Birmingham.

The group that owns the Cyclones was granted a new franchise in the International Hockey League, a step up in play for the city. They also retained the rights to an ECHL franchise. Art Clarkson, a former majority owner of the Southern League's Birmingham Barons baseball team, persuaded the group to bring their ECHL franchise to Birmingham. Clarkson, who's official title is team consultant, will also be the primary minority owner. The ownership group is comprised of Doug Kirchhofer, Bob Polk and brothers Ron and Robert Fuller. Ron Fuller is best known as the former professional wrestler known as the Tennessee Stud.

The ECHL was founded by Henry Brabham and Bill Coffey. Five teams comprised the ECHL during their inaugural season in 1988-89. The ECHL has been one of the most successful leagues in professional sports over the last four years, growing from five teams to fifteen teams last season.

The league's Commissioner is Pat Kelly, a former head coach of the World Hockey Association's Birmingham Bulls in 1976-77. "I remember some big crowds a the Civic Center for Bobby Hull and the Winnipeg Jets, and some not so big crowds for the other teams," Kelly said.

At the press conference, Clarkson announced that the team will be known as the Birmingham Bulls. "The name Bulls is familiar to hockey fans. We thought it a good name to keep," Clarkson said.

Polk, who will be the team's president and general manager, said getting a head coach is a top priority. "I hope to have a coach in eight to ten days. We're talking to three or four NHL teams about working agreements. If we receive a working agreement, that club's general manager will have some say so about the coach he wants to develop the three or four players sent to us," Polk said.

League play begins in October with thirty-two home games and thirty-two road games.


August 1992

    Bruce Garber is named the Bulls first head coach. "I'm excited about being the person to come here and help spread the word about hockey. I can't wait to get started. I'm psyched," Garber said.

The 35-year old Garber's coaching career started in 1981 when he became an assistant coach at Providence College. In 1984, he became a sales manager for hockey equipment manufacturer CCM. During that time, he also worked as an assistant coach at the Community College of Rhode Island. After coaching as an assistant there for two years, he was promoted to head coach in 1986, where he remained for six years. 

Garber came highly recommended; "In my five years in the East Coast Hockey League, I have never had two Presidents of National Hockey League teams cold call me and recommend a coach, until Bruce," Bulls co-owner Bob Polk said.

    New Jersey Devils logoPolk announces the Bulls have signed a working agreement with the National Hockey League's New Jersey Devils. "We had a great deal of success utilizing Cincinnati as our East Coast Hockey League connection last year. Birmingham's facilities and head coach are both top-notch, and I expect better things yet to come," said Lou Lamoriello, president and general manger of the Devils.   

October 1992


1992-93 East Coast Hockey League

  West Division   East Division  
  Birmingham Bulls     Greensboro Monarchs  
  Columbus Chill   Hampton Roads Admirals  
  Dayton Bombers   Johnstown Chiefs  
  Erie Panthers   Raleigh IceCaps  
  Knoxville Cherokees     Richmond Renegades  
  Louisville IceHawks   Roanoke Valley Rampage   
  Nashville Knights   Wheeling Thunderbirds  
  Toledo Storm      
    In their first regular-season game, the Birmingham Bulls beat the defending champions Hampton Roads Admirals and also break an ECHL record. After the Bulls tied the game 6-6 with twenty seconds remaining in regulation play, the Bulls and the Admirals played a scoreless overtime period. During the resulting sudden-death shootout, the two teams combined for a record twenty-one shots to decide the game.   

??? 1993

      Phil Roberto named head coach. Roberto is a former player of the World Hockey League's Birmingham Bulls. Roberto's coaching career started last year as an assistant coach with the Bulls.   

October 1993

  1993-94 East Coast Hockey League  
  West Division   North Division   East Division  
  Birmingham Bulls     Columbus Chill   Charlotte Checkers  
  Huntington Blizzard   Dayton Bombers   Greensboro Monarchs  
  Huntsville Blast   Erie Panthers   Hampton Roads Admirals    
  Knoxville Cherokees     Johnstown Chiefs   Raleigh IceCaps  
  Louisville IceHawks   Toledo Storm   Richmond Renegades  
  Nashville Knights   Wheeling Thunderbirds     Roanoke Express  
          South Carolina Stingrays    

??? 1994

      Florida Panthers logoThe Bulls will now be affiliated with the NHL's Florida Panthers.   

October 1994

  1994-95 East Coast Hockey League  
  North Division   South Division   East Division  
  Columbus Chill   Birmingham Bulls   Charlotte Checkers  
  Dayton Bombers   Huntington Blizzard   Greensboro Monarchs  
  Erie Panthers   Knoxville Cherokees   Hampton Roads Admirals    
  Johnstown Chiefs   Nashville Knights   Raleigh IceCaps  
  Toledo Storm   South Carolina Stingrays   Richmond Renegades  
  Wheeling Thunderbirds     Tallahassee Tiger Sharks     Roanoke Express  

??? 1995

      East Coast Hockey League logoDennis Desrosiers named head coach.   

October 1995

  1995-96 East Coast Hockey League  
  North Division   South Division   East Division  
  Columbus Chill   Birmingham Bulls   Charlotte Checkers  
  Dayton Bombers   Jacksonville Lizard Kings   Hampton Roads Admirals    
  Erie Panthers   Knoxville Cherokees   Raleigh IceCaps  
  Huntington Blizzard   Louisiana IceGators   Richmond Renegades  
  Johnstown Chiefs   Mobile Mysticks   Roanoke Express  
  Louisville RiverFrogs   Nashville Knights   South Carolina Stingrays   
  Toledo Storm   Tallahassee Tiger Sharks        
  Wheeling Thunderbirds            

October 1996

  1996-97 East Coast Hockey League  
  North Division   South Division   East Division  
  Columbus Chill   Baton Rouge Kingfish   Charlotte Checkers  
  Dayton Bombers   Birmingham Bulls   Hampton Roads Admirals    
  Huntington Blizzard   Jacksonville Lizard Kings     Knoxville Cherokees  
  Johnstown Chiefs   Louisiana IceGators   Raleigh IceCaps  
  Louisville RiverFrogs     Mississippi Sea Wolves   Richmond Renegades  
  Peoria Rivermen   Mobile Mysticks   Roanoke Express  
  Toledo Storm   Pensacola Ice Pilots   South Carolina Stingrays  
  Wheeling Nailers   Tallahassee Tiger Sharks        

October 1997

  1997-98 East Coast Hockey League  
  Northern Conference   Southern Conference  
  Columbus Chill   Chesapeake Icebreakers    Baton Rouge Kingfish   Charlotte Checkers  
  Dayton Bombers   Hampton Roads Admirals     Birmingham Bulls   Jacksonville Lizard Kings  
  Huntington Blizzard   Johnstown Chiefs   Louisiana IceGators   Pee Dee Pride  
  Louisville RiverFrogs     Richmond Renegades   Mississippi Sea Wolves     Raleigh IceCaps  
  Peoria Rivermen   Roanoke Express   Mobile Mysticks   South Carolina Stingrays  
  Toledo Storm   Wheeling Nailers   New Orleans Brass   Tallahassee Tiger Sharks    
          Pensacola Ice Pilots      

??? 1998

      Clarkson sells the Bulls to the Berkman Group for around $2.3 million.   

January 1998

    TRIVIA January 2, 1998 - Birmingham Bulls center Jamey Hicks scores hockey's only shorthanded, natural hat trick ever in Pensacola against the Ice Pilots. This feat has never been done in any league at any level before or after Jamey's record setting performance.   

October 1998

  1998-99 East Coast Hockey League  
  Northern Conference   Southern Conference  
  Columbus Chill   Chesapeake Icebreakers    Baton Rouge Kingfish   Augusta Lynx  
  Dayton Bombers   Hampton Roads Admirals     Birmingham Bulls   Charlotte Checkers  
  Huntington Blizzard     Johnstown Chiefs   Louisiana IceGators   Florida Everblades  
  Peoria Rivermen   Richmond Renegades   Mississippi Sea Wolves     Greenville Grrrowl  
  Toledo Storm   Roanoke Express   Mobile Mysticks   Jacksonville Lizard Kings    
  Wheeling Nailers       New Orleans Brass   Miami Matadors  
          Pensacola Ice Pilots   Pee Dee Pride  
          Tallahassee Tiger Sharks     South Carolina Stingrays  
  ???   The Bulls had to postpone their season opener against the ??? because the ice had not properly frozen. Just before the game was to start, Bulls officials wanted the Bulls logo at center ice. However, the ice did not properly set and holes developed in the ice that ran down to the arena floor.   

October 1999

  1999-00 East Coast Hockey League  
  Northern Conference   Southern Conference  
  Dayton Bombers   Charlotte Checkers   Arkansas RiverBlades   Augusta Lynx  
  Huntington Blizzard    Greensboro Generals   Baton Rouge Kingfish   Florida Everblades  
  Johnstown Chiefs   Hampton Roads Admirals    Birmingham Bulls   Greenville Grrrowl  
  Peoria Rivermen   Richmond Renegades   Jackson Bandits   Jacksonville Lizard Kings  
  Toledo Storm   Roanoke Express   Louisiana IceGators   Pee Dee Pride  
  Wheeling Nailers   Trenton Titans   Mississippi Sea Wolves    South Carolina Stingrays  
          Mobile Mysticks   Tallahassee Tiger Sharks   
          New Orleans Brass      
          Pensacola Ice Pilots      

March 2000


The ECHL is forcing the Bulls to forfeit three games due to playing an ineligible player. Defenseman Dereck Gosselin was picked up from Mobile last week and ECHL rules prohibit a player from competing for more than one team within the same ownership group during the same season. Gosselin played for the Jacksonville Lizard Kings earlier in the year before playing with the Mobile Mystics. The Jacksonville and Birmingham franchises are both owned by the Berkman Group. Gosselin, who was since put on waivers, has been picked up by the Arkansas RiverBlades. 

Part-owner Charles Felix said, "As soon as I was contacted, although having a difference of opinion, I said I understand your position and we'll put him on waivers immediately. It's not like we're trying to cover it up. The rule as I understood it was we could not trade with a related team, that since the guy had gone from Jacksonville to Mobile - since it's not a direct trade or involvement - that it wouldn't be a problem." When asked about the game forfeitures, Felix said, "Do I think it's fair? No. Is it according to the rules? The answer is yes."


April 2000

    It is announced that the ownership of the Bulls has decided not to renew the contract of Head Coach Dennis Desrosiers. Desrosiers was hired in 1995 by the former owner of the Bulls, Art Clarkson, and his contract expired at the end of this season. Desrosiers said he decided after Christmas that he didn't want to return next season and told that to Charles Felix during a meeting in February. 

"I don't like the way they run their business. They can run their business any way they want to, but I don't have to be a part of it," Desrosiers said. The Bulls finished the season 29-37-4 and missed the playoffs for the first time in the past four seasons. The Bulls lost 18 of their final 20 games, including three forfeited victories for using an ineligible player. Desrosiers said the team's ownership structure also makes it too difficult to sign players. Felix's ownership group also owns the Jacksonville Lizard Kings and Pensacola Ice Pilots. 

Desrosiers said the team's front office "made moves that killed this team," and questioned the value of the team's scouts, including Josh Felix, son of Bulls President Charles Felix. Josh Felix is listed in the Bulls' program as director of scouting, and Joe Bucchino as director of hockey operations. Felix recently completed college in North Carolina, and Bucchino lives in New Hampshire and did not attend a Bulls game this season. "Where's the qualifications?" Desrosiers asked. "Where are these people and what are they doing?" Felix defended the team's front office, and said Bucchino, who handles personnel for all three teams, does most of his advance scouting of junior players from home. Felix said his son Josh often scouted games in North Carolina while attending school. Charles Felix said Josh's position recently was changed to director of sports operations.

"You need to be a good hockey team to sell hockey tickets. There just isn't any respect (from the owners) for the players or for the game," Desrosiers said. Felix disagreed and blamed Desrosiers for the team's slide. "My commitment to winning is very, very strong. We were in first or second place in January and February. To take that team and have it finish the way it did is pretty amazing," Felix said.


Reports are surfacing that the Bulls paid nearly $4,000 per week extra to players during their 1997 season, the last year that Art Clarkson was the team's owner. According to documents, extra payments ranged from $50 to $400 per player per week. One document, addressed to an agent and dated 07/29/1997, says the Bulls agree to pay two players $20,000 for the season. The document, signed by Head Coach Dennis Desrosiers, states "The payment has to show $350 per week for the salary cap. The remaining payment scheduled can be worked out."

Desrosiers said, "I have no clue what you're talking about. And even if I did, what difference does it make? What do I care? What's that got to do with anything? Let me tell you something, Art Clarkson never got fined for cheating. They (the current Bulls owners) got fined for cheating in Pensacola. So what are they talking about? Are they trying to see if Art Clarkson was cheating? He's not in the league."

Clarkson states, "I have never, ever been caught or investigated for any violation of anything in the ECHL. I had a clean, 100 percent record for six years. That's a fact. You can verify that with the ECHL office."


The Bulls announce Mike Zruna as their new head coach. Zruna had served for 3 years under former Bulls head coach Dennis Desrosiers before leaving last year to become the head coach of the Western Professional Hockey League's Alexandria (LA) Warthogs. The Alexandria job was his first as a head coach. The Warthogs have since suspended operation, which left Zruna without a job. 

According to Bulls President Charles Felix, Zruna's close ties to Desrosiers didn't hamper his chances at becoming the Bulls head coach. "He had his own way of coaching and bringing up young players. It's a break from how Dennis handled the team to Mike. It's not a continuing philosophy," Felix said.


August 2000

    It is reported that the Birmingham Bulls management are in the process of trading center Jamey Hicks to the Arkansas Riverblades. Hicks, a team captain and fan favorite, is perhaps the best player in the history of the franchise. A perennial ECHL All-Star, Hicks holds several team records and was the league's MVP in 1997. He also led the league in assists twice and led the league in scoring in 1997. The Bulls are looking for two players, cash and future considerations from the Riverblades.  

Hicks says he met with Bulls management on the 11th seeking a multi-year contract. Instead, he was offered a 30-week contract. "I'm very disappointed. My family and I wanted more than a 6-month deal, and when it became apparent that was the route they were looking at, I had to look at other options. At this point in my career (the Bulls' offer) is not good enough for my family. My production has not gone down. I wanted more security. My wife and I love Birmingham and we don't want to leave. I would have been willing to sign for the same contract I had last year. I know I could make more money somewhere else, but we consider Birmingham our home. We're leaving a lot of friends," said Hicks. Before their meeting, Hicks said he had spoken with Bulls President Charles Felix only once in the past 3 months. "I thought I would have gotten a phone call," Hicks said.  

Felix confirmed the Bulls were accepting trade offers, but didn't know who the offers were coming from. "I have no idea. Mike Zruna is handling all of that," Felix said. New Head Coach Mike Zruna declined to comment. Felix went on to say, "We made an offer based on what the league requires us to do, which included a 7 1/2 percent annual raise. The reason Jamey was not offered a multi-year contract is because it is our policy with all of our teams not to offer more than the one-year, standard ECHL contract. I think Jamey is a good player, but not one player is going to make the team. On the ice, it is based on producing a winning team, not just a winning player. The sports business is always changing, that is what our league is all about."


September 2000

    Hicks has agreed to a contract with the Bulls for the 2000-01 season. "This is where I feel comfortable and this is where I belong," Hicks said. 

Hicks said the Arkansas offer was attractive because the team would have offered him year-round, long-term stability, and he would have had input as to the club's direction, just as he does with the Bulls. "When I'm in Birmingham, I don't have final say on anything. But my input is taken whether it's off the ice in marketing or on the ice in personnel. (Arkansas) wanted Jamey Hicks off the ice before they wanted him on the ice. That sounded really attractive," Hicks said.


October 2000

  2000-01 East Coast Hockey League  
  Northern Conference   Southern Conference  
  Dayton Bombers   Charlotte Checkers   Arkansas RiverBlades   Augusta Lynx  
  Johnstown Chiefs   Greensboro Generals   Baton Rouge Kingfish   Florida Everblades  
  Peoria Rivermen   Richmond Renegades    Birmingham Bulls   Greenville Grrrowl  
  Toledo Storm   Roanoke Express   Jackson Bandits   Pee Dee Pride  
  Wheeling Nailers   Trenton Titans   Louisiana IceGators   South Carolina Stingrays  
          Mississippi Sea Wolves    Tallahassee Tiger Sharks   
          Mobile Mysticks      
          New Orleans Brass      
          Pensacola Ice Pilots      
    Felix says this season won't be a make-or-break season, but he did admit that if more fans don't show up this year, the Bulls could be forced to move. The Bulls have failed to make a profit in the two years the investment group he is a part of has owned the team. "The Bulls are planning to be here (next year). There's no reason why we wouldn't be here. The way the projections look and the way things are going right now, I see us here for at least a few more years," Felix said. More than likely, this would mean three years, which is the remaining length of the team's contract with the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. Felix refused to commit to anything beyond that time-frame. However, Felix said that if the Bulls continue to attract corporate sponsors and ticket sales continue at their present pace, they might make a profit this season.

Zruna added, "As far as I know, the attendance has dropped. But we need to have a good team. We need to make the playoffs. We need to put people in the seats and play an entertaining brand of hockey, and we have to win games. The players' jobs and my job is to come out here and win hockey games and be consistent. Hopefully that translates to butts in the seats."

    The Bulls postpone their home opener against the Jackson Bandits. The Bandits' chartered bus has broken down outside of Jackson, Mississippi around 2:00 p.m. and they can't secure other transportation to Birmingham in time to play at 7:30 p.m. in Birmingham. However, the Bulls were not notified of the Bandits' problems until around 3:00 p.m. Head coach Mike Zruna is angry at the Bandits for not letting them know of their problems sooner. "This is totally bush league. I've never seen anything like this, especially in the ECHL. Did their bus break down? Why are they not calling us until three? I don't know, but to me there are some pieces to the puzzle that aren't really fitting well here," Zruna said.   

November 2000

    Zruna delivers a stern lecture to his players after their tenth loss against three wins by saying if the Bulls did not fire him he promised to make major changes in the player roster. "If I'm still here this week, there's going to be some forwards gone. That's all there is to it. You can't just sit around and wait. We're 3-10-1. We're the worst team in the league. Ken Hitchcock (NHL's Dallas Stars head coach) and some coaches were talking that  if you win sixty percent of the one-on-one battles on the boards, you're going to win sixty to seventy percent of your hockey games. It's not that hard. We're losing the one on one battles. Where's the intensity? Where's the will to want to win? I just told them, 'Maybe it starts with me.' I said. 'Maybe if I come in here tomorrow and I get fired, these guys can go on and have a good season.' Unless I'm an idiot, that's a pretty good team in there," Zruna said.

Addressing the growing concerns of the team's future in Birmingham, Zruna said, "It's a business. These guys (the owners) say you have to win games, put people in the building and they're going to be here next year, they're going to still have a franchise or blah, blah, blah. Who knows what the party line is now? We're 3-10-1... we're dead last in the league. It's nothing to be proud of."

Felix said there will be no removal of Zruna at this time.


December 2000

    At a press conference announcing the sale of the af2's Birmingham Steeldogs, Bulls co-owner Charles Felix dismissed rumors that the Bulls were not returning for a 2001-02 season next year. "Our majority owner (David Berkman) sees a little growth in attendance and expects another increase after the first of the year. Minor league hockey is going through some rough times, and it's been a little bumpy for everyone. The ultimate decision won't be made by myself, it'll be made by David. Right now, the announcement is that we're staying," Felix said.

The sale will also give Berkman more time and energy to devote to his hockey teams in Pensacola and Birmingham. "David can direct his passion now toward the Bulls without having to have the concern or decision making relating to the two teams here. He can really focus on the hockey team. And his passion is for hockey," Felix said.

There is speculation that the Birmingham Steeldogs new owner, Steven Umberger, has an option to also buy the Bulls at a later date. However, he currently has no intentions of doing so. "I don't know anything about hockey and I really want to do one thing right and that's get the best af2 team on the field. David loves hockey and I'm passionate about football, so at this point, no," Umberger said.


March 2001

    Rumors continue to swirl that the Bulls will be sold or will relocate before next season. The Bulls have yet to sign a lease renewal with the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. A lease was to be signed before now, but Felix had requested a week's extension to build a larger season ticket base for next year. Sources say only 600 season tickets have been sold at this point. Overall attendance is running roughly fifty percent of last year.

According to ECHL President Rick Adams, the Bulls ownership asked for a one-year voluntary suspension of operations at a February meeting. The league denied the request because they want to keep a franchise active in Birmingham. "It's not a solution. The Birmingham (club) will continue to operate. It's not a proper long-term solution," Adams said. When told about Adams' comments, Felix responded, "I wouldn't say we discussed (suspension). We talked about a lot of other cities' situations, and how the league could help cities for next season."

While majority owner David Berkman has met with former owner Art Clarkson several times lately, Clarkson indicates he is more of an advisor to Berkman than a serious threat to purchase the Bulls. The current ownership group still owes $575,000, 25 percent of the sale price, to Clarkson's group. Felix said the team is being paid for in installments. "The chances of me getting back into it are really a long shot. I don't want to see hockey leave Birmingham. That would be terrible," Clarkson said.

Much of the reason for declining corporate support and sponsorship lies directly with the differences between Clarkson's group and Berkman's group. Bob Sulfstede, co-owner of an upscale clothier, used to award players who scored hat tricks or had a plus-five game with thousand-dollar suits. Sulfstede-Phillips is still a sponsor, giving a suit to the monthly MVP, but has curtailed its involvement significantly. Sulfstede said things have changed since the Berkman Group hit town, "They're not as close and friendly. A lot of old sponsors have declined." As a business owner, Sulfstede said the new owners might be wise to take a look at Clarkson's philosophies. "If you don't want to look at what other people have done and been successful with," Sulfstede said, "then you don't want to be successful."


April 2001

    After their last game of the season, the future of the Bulls continues to be cloudy. The team was visited by Clarkson after the game. "Everything is speculation right now. Just like everybody else, I want hockey back here but in what form it will be I can't tell you," Clarkson said.

Regardless of the outcome, the Bulls will probably lose the services of fan favorite Jamey Hicks. "We can't control anything that's going to happen. Both of my kids were born here and this is a special place for me. I'd love for Art to take it over. This is always his franchise whether he owns it or not. I'll be somewhere else next season, but I have a special feeling for this place. I'm going back to my wife and kids in Canada. I'm going to start fresh somewhere else," Hicks said.

In one of the more touching moments, immediately after the game Hicks skated to center ice, kissed his hand and then placed it on the Bulls logo.

    It is reported that George Shinn, co-owner of the National Basketball Association's Charlotte Hornets, has made inquiries into purchasing the Bulls. If Shinn is successful, he will move the club to Atlantic City, NJ, where he owns an arena. Shinn already partially owns one ECHL team, the Charlotte Checkers. 

"I've talked to (Shinn). But we haven't agreed to anything. There's no letter of intent to sell," Felix said.

The franchise has also allowed the deadline to renew their lease of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena to pass. "We've received an extension and we're working together with (BJCC General Manager) Frank Poe," Felix said.

Central Hockey League logoIf Shinn's bid fails, the Central Hockey League is on record stating that it would strongly consider placing a franchise here for the 2001 season. 

CHL Commissioner Thomas Berry said, "From the WHA (World Hockey Association) days through the ECHL days, (Birmingham has) had a storied career of success... and difficulties. It is a large enough market, and the facility is quite large. It lends itself to the possibility of being a very good market again. We've had inquiries from several different groups who have expressed an interest in hockey being played there. But we have told all of them that until (the Bulls) decide they are leaving, we're not going to interfere in their business. From a geographical standpoint, it would certainly be amenable to following through to see if the groups that have contacted us would be willing to spend the money necessary to snap them out of their doldrums down there." Berry said the league's deadline for adding a new teams is May.

Western Professional Hockey League logoBirmingham has previously had two franchises in the "old" Central Hockey League, the Birmingham Bulls in 1979-80 and 1980-81 and the Birmingham South Stars in 1982-83. The old CHL folded before the 1984-85 season and was reborn before the 1992-93 season. The twelve-team CHL is rumored to be merging with the thirteen-team Western Professional Hockey League at some point in the future.

Of his interest in the CHL, Clarkson said, "I've talked to a lot of people. I'm an interested spectator. Until someone comes up with the right deal, I'm just looking. I'd hate to see hockey die in Birmingham. It can succeed with the right ownership and management."

Poe said that if a new team become reality, they'd have to move fast to keep hockey here next year. "If thirty days from now, someone comes to me and says he wants to put a team in here, I'd say it'd be tough to find good (weekend) dates by then," Poe said.

    Felix announces that a potential new, unidentified owner has entered the negotiations. "We're looking at a partnership. It could be a part-owner, or he could (buy) the whole thing," Felix said. 

ECHL Commissioner Rick Adams said he would not stand in the way of the Berkman Group moving the Bulls to another city. "Our desire continues to be to play hockey in Birmingham. We've worked hard with that ownership group to continue that. Ultimately, I can't control whether they come and ask for a relocation. They are in the (first draft of) the schedule, and we are moving forward. In a day, a week, a month, whether that changes, they are beyond the scope of something I can control," Adams said.

    Poe tells Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex board members that he has informed Felix that the BJCC could not extend the deadline to sign renewal lease for the arena for the 2001-02 season. "I told Charles if a new deal can be worked out, great. But if not, we're taking bookings that will be in the hockey season period for other events. I don't know if those dates would cut into the Bulls games or not, but there is a good chance some could," Poe said. 

Most concert promoters want to schedule dates months in advance and Poe says he has no other choice but to protect the BJCC's financial future by booking the events in what has normally reserved for the Bulls. "We make more from two good concerts than we did from the entire Bulls hockey season this year," Poe said.

Poe said he has extended the lease deadlines several times to accommodate Felix, but could not do so again. "I wanted to give him every opportunity to make this work. The lease that we had been working to extend into next year is null and void. I'm willing to work with a new owner. I realize hockey has some great fans in Birmingham," Poe said. 

Clarkson still denies he has any part of the ongoing negotiations. "Unless I get a deal where they give me sixty-five percent of concessions, fifty percent of parking, naming rights to the building that I can sell for $20-$30 million dollars, I'm not interested," Clarkson jokingly said.

    Felix confirms that the Bulls could fold as soon as next week unless a local partner is found. "If none of the two suitors come through, the Bulls are done," Felix said.   

May 2001

    Felix announces at a press conference that George Shinn has signed a letter of intent to purchase the Bulls. If the ECHL's Board of Governors vote their approval, Shinn will move the franchise, which will remain in the ECHL, to Atlantic City, NJ. According to Felix, Shinn showed no interest in keeping the franchise in Birmingham. The franchise will have a new nickname and logo.

Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies logoThe team will play in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall, which has been the home of the Miss America Pageant since 1940 and is currently undergoing a $90 million renovation. The city authority has reportedly guaranteed Shinn $1.6 million in season ticket sales for the next three years.

Shinn is currently co-owns numerous sports franchises, including the National Basketball Association's Charlotte Hornets, the Women's National Basketball Association's Charlotte Sting and the ECHL's Charlotte Checkers. In 1985, Shinn tried unsuccessfully to buy the United States Football League's Birmingham Stallions after owner Marvin Warner pulled out.

ECHL Commissioner Rick Adams wanted the franchise to remain in Birmingham. "It's a very disappointing day in the ECHL. It was not a market that we were interested in leaving. But ownership there was not prepared to operate, and they were not able to find an investor willing to operate in Birmingham," Adams said.

However, Felix and others agree that minor-league hockey could return to Birmingham. "We want to bring hockey back into this market, working hopefully with some strong local ownership. But we also will be open to interest from other leagues for opportunities to bring hockey back to Birmingham and will not be passive in our pursuit," Poe said. Former Bulls owner Clarkson agreed by saying, "I don't think it's dead. If the situation's right, I'll get involved. If not, I won't get involved. I still think Birmingham is an excellent hockey community. The six years I was involved proved it. It's a sad day. I hate to see it go, hate to see it happen."

Many fans felt the Berkman Group lacked the ability to run a hockey team successfully and point to the group's history as proof. Over the last few years, the group has folded or moved franchises in Atlanta, Nashville, Quebec City and now Birmingham. Their Jacksonville franchise sits dormant awaiting the construction of a new facility. One outspoken critic is former Bulls coach Dennis Desrosiers, who is now coaching the United Hockey League's Kalamazoo K-Wings. "It's pretty obvious what happened. When (Clarkson) left, that was pretty much the end. I had my two most miserable years in hockey under those guys. Art was a great businessman and a great promoter, who had great fans. You'd think it'd continue to be good. I don't think (the Berman Group) can blame the fans, players or the city. I think they better look in the mirror. Whatever Art did, that group didn't do because Art had done it. I don't know how many times in that office I heard disparaging comments about the way Art ran things. In the the back of my mind, I though, 'They should take a page out of what Art did.'," Desrosiers said.

Felix said the main reason for the Berkman Group selling the Bulls is a $1 million dollar loss over the last three years. "This is not an easy thing to do. But the financial partners of this team made the decision to sell. I tried to pull the old rabbit out of the hat, but I couldn't do it. To remove a team is a very, very tough thing to do. But (the move is) economically driven. It's a business," Felix said.



      Stockton Thunder logoThe Boardwalk Bullies found success on the ice in Atlantic City, winning the Kelly Cup in just their third season. Despite winning a league championship, the fan base never materialized as ownership had hoped.

After four years in Atlantic City the team was sold and moved to Stockton, California in 2005 and became the Stockton Thunder.

ECHL logoIn May of 2003, the East Coast Hockey League decides to change its name to the ECHL to better reflect their goal of becoming a nationwide hockey league.

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Last Update: April 12, 2008