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Southern Professional Hockey League
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Team and League History

February 20, 2017
The Pelham City Council agrees to a lease of the Pelham Civic Complex and Ice Arena for a new Southern Professional Hockey League team that will begin play in October 2017.

The lease is pending final approval by the city’s attorney.

  Owner Art Clarkson announcing the Birmingham Bulls
will return to the ice in 2017
The team, likely to be named the Birmingham Bulls, will be owned by Art Clarkson. His ties to Birmingham professional sports date back many years. Previously, Clarkson brought back professional baseball to Birmingham in 1981 when he secured the Southern League's Montgomery Rebels franchise and relocated them to Rickwood Field as the Birmingham Barons. After selling his ownership in the Barons in 1989, he brought hockey back in 1992 with the Birmingham Bulls, a member of the East Coast Hockey League. Clarkson sold his interest in the Bulls in 1998 and then became involved in various indoor football leagues through the years.

An application to the SPHL has been submitted and approval should be received in around thirty days, Clarkson said.

SPHL president Jim Combs said he appreciates the history of hockey in Birmingham and is currently reviewing the proposal for the new team to join his league. "Birmingham is a great market. I'm very familiar with the town and very familiar with Birmingham hockey." He is in the process of reviewing the team's ownership and checking out the business plan and Pelham's arena. "We have to check out all those things before approval can be given. I'm very familiar with all that they're doing, and they seem to be heading in the right direction."

Pelham City Council members called the move “a logical next step” for the city, which has experienced significant growth in its youth and adult hockey leagues over the past few years. Alabama and UAB hockey clubs also play all of their home games at the arena. City Council president Rick Hayes said the city has been working toward getting a professional hockey team for about two years.

     Southern Professional Hockey League logo
Clarkson said he initially wanted the new hockey team to play at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex's Legacy Arena, which is where the ECHL Bulls played. "Our initial thought was to go to the BJCC and were in contact with them back in May. We wanted to get into the building, but we were not getting any response. We were given every reason in the book that we couldn't do it," Clarkson said.

According to BJCC director of communications Cindy Crawford, the arena did discuss the possibility of bringing hockey back to the downtown area. "The BJCC discussed on several occasions with Mr. Clarkson the possibility of hockey returning to Legacy Arena at the BJCC, which has a long and proud hockey history, including being the venue in which Gordie Howe scored his 1,000th goal. Following initial discussions culminating with decisions necessary by Mr. Clarkson, the BJCC did not receive any further communication. While many steps remained to fully evaluate the opportunity, discussions could not progress without communication from Mr. Clarkson."

“We will make this successful. There’s no doubt about it," Clarkson said.

But to be successful, some upgrades will need to be made to the Ice Arena. Pelham Civic Complex facilities manager Danny Tate agreed that the facility has been in need of upgrades for some time now. Hayes presented ideas about expanding the seating within the main arena and possibly incorporating corporate boxes. With the main arena having a seating capacity of about 3,000 people, Hayes said about 800 additional seats are needed. “The professional hockey team is not the only reason for needing to add more seats,” Pelham mayor Gary Waters said. “With the annual tree lighting and graduation we don’t have enough seats. With more seating we won’t have to limit the number of people students can invite to graduation as strictly.” In addition to adding more seating, upgrades would need to be made to the interior of the building also. With the endeavor still being in its early stages, the council doesn’t know how much the upgrades might cost. “This is a great addition to our facility,” said Erik Hudson, Pelham Civic Complex hockey director.

Waters says the city is dedicated to the venture. "We don't have a sufficient number of dressing rooms or concessions stands, and will need to add approximately 250 more seats to the main arena. We've been assured that we would have hockey by the fall of 2017, and I'm counting on that. I'm 100% behind it."

  Head coach Jamey Hicks
The Pelham Ice Arena was home to three other professional hockey teams, the Alabama Gunners in 1998, the Pelham Prowlers in 1999, and the Alabama Slammers in 2003. The Prowlers were the most successful, winning the Southern Elite Hockey League championship in their only season.

February 11, 2017
Clarkson introduces former Birmingham Bulls player Jamey Hicks as head coach.

Hicks played 335 games while with the Bulls from 1996 to 2001, and was the league's Most Valuable Player in the 1997-98 season.

Clarkson said that Hicks brings the kind of attitude and knowledge needed for success with the new team. "Jamey's a quality guy, who was captain of the team when he was in Birmingham. He was a MVP, a high scorer, and has experience as an assistant coach. He's excited to be reconnecting with Birmingham."

Hicks is excited to be returning to the Magic City. "One of my highlights of my playing career was wearing the 'C' for the Birmingham Bulls, and I intend to bring the same work ethic, respect for the game, and level of commitment to my new position within the organization."

June 2017
     Columbus Cottonmouths logo
Early this month, the owner of the SPHL's Columbus Cottonmouths, Wanda Amos, sells her franchise to the Birmingham Bulls ownership group.

In that transaction, the league gained the rights to the Columbus, GA market.

Amos had owned the franchise for seventeen years, and the last thirteen of those by herself. The Cottonmouths have lost money nearly every year they have owned the team. Most years the losses neared, or exceeded, six figures.

Amos had been trying to sell the franchise for some time, and when no buyer could be located Amos alerted the league that she was ceasing operations after the 2016-17 season. On May 3rd, the league made the announcement.

Prior to the announcement, the league and Columbus city officials thought they had a buyer for the team but the deal could not be finished by the deadline.

During the 21-year history of Columbus Cottonmouths hockey, head coach and general manager Jerome Bechard has been involved with the franchise. He was the first player signed by founding owner Charlie Morrow. When Bechard hung up his skates, he moved into the coaching front office positions, always as the face of the franchise. During his playing days, Bechard was also with the East Coast Hockey League's Birmingham Bulls and was a favorite of the fans.

October 2017

Southern Professional Hockey League                         
xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx
  Birmingham Bulls logo   Evansville Thunderbolts logo   Fayetteville Marksmen logo   Huntsville Havoc logo   Knoxville Ice Bears logo  
  Birmingham Bulls   Evansville Thunderbolts   Fayetteville Marksmen   Huntsville Havoc
  Knoxville Ice Bears  
  Macon Mayhem logo   Mississippi RiverKings logo   Pensacola Ice Flyers logo   Peoria Rivermen logo   Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs logo  
  Macon Mayhem   Mississippi RiverKings   Pensacola Ice Flyers   Peoria Rivermen   Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs  

May 23, 2018
The SPHL announces that it will be expanding to Moline, IL in 2018 but will be called Quad City. League president Jim Combs stated that the SPHL Board of Governors this week approved the Louisiana IceGators’ majority transfer of ownership.

May 24, 2018
The owners of the Mississippi RiverKings announce they have suspended operations while the league searches for new ownership.

October 2018

Southern Professional Hockey League                         
xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx
  Birmingham Bulls logo   Evansville Thunderbolts logo   Fayetteville Marksmen logo   Huntsville Havoc logo   Knoxville Ice Bears logo  
  Birmingham Bulls   Evansville Thunderbolts   Fayetteville Marksmen   Huntsville Havoc
  Knoxville Ice Bears  
  Macon Mayhem logo   Pensacola Ice Flyers logo   Peoria Rivermen logo   Quad City Storm logo   Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs logo  
  Macon Mayhem   Pensacola Ice Flyers   Peoria Rivermen   Quad City Storm   Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs  

April 20, 2019
By defeating the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs a second time in three games, the Bulls advance to the Southern Professional Hockey League's President's Cup championship series.

Their opponent will be the Huntsville Havoc, who are the SPHL's defending champions. The Bulls made the championship series in their second year of existence.

April 27, 2019
The Bulls lost the President's Cup championship series to the Havoc, two games to none.

June 3, 2019
The SPHL announces that Art Clarkson will be leaving the managing partner position of the Birmingham Bulls. Clarkson, 77, has been very involved in local professional sports through the years. Clarkson also owned the Bulls during their East Coast Hockey League days in the 1990s and owned the Birmingham Barons during the Michael Jordan era. He went on to launch arena football in Huntsville and managed multiple professional teams across the country.

Joe Stroud, the organization’s general manager, will remain with the Bulls and guide the club's operations. “He is truly the PT Barnum of minor league sports, and we hope to see him in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame very soon.”

Bulls head coach Jamey Hicks, says he will be losing both a boss and a friend. “Art will always be synonymous with hockey in Birmingham. He was an owner, mentor, and most importantly to me a friend. I will be forever grateful to him for introducing my family to the Bulls logo.”

October 7, 2019
  Art Clarkson
Art Clarkson, one of the all-time giants of professional sports in Birmingham, died today at the age of 78.

Clarkson has done more to bring professional sports to Birmingham than anyone else. His genius was in the area of promotions, and he did it well.

His first brush with Birmingham was when he worked for the World Football League's Southern California Sun in 1974. In 1975, he moved over to the WFL's Memphis Southmen to work for John Bassett. In 1976, Bassett would move his World Hockey Association's Toronto Toros here where they became the Birmingham Bulls.

In 1981, Clarkson brought the Southern League's failing Montgomery Rebels to town. In a nod to our prior baseball history, he renamed the team the Birmingham Barons. During his time with the Barons, he was an instrumental force in having a new baseball park built in Hoover.

After selling the Barons in 1990, Clarkson switched his focus from baseball to hockey. In 1992, the East Coast Hockey League's Birmingham Bulls took the ice, named in honor of Bassett's hockey team from the 70's. After six years, he sold his ownership stake in the Bulls.

Once again switching sports, Clarkson moved from hockey to football, more precisely, indoor football. In 1999, Clarkson helped create an indoor football league that became the Arena Football League's developmental league, the af2. The Birmingham Steeldogs were inaugural members of that league but, unfortunately, Clarkson was an owner of the Huntsville Vipers, not the Steeldogs.

After working with an indoor football team in Green Bay, Clarkson felt it was time to retire and moved back to Birmingham. Fortunately, an outstanding promoter like Clarkson can't stay retired for long, and in 2016 he decided to bring the Bulls back to Birmingham. In 2017 his idea became reality, when the Southern Professional Hockey League's Birmingham Bulls took the ice. Before that first faceoff occurred, he was a major driving force in a multi-million dollar renovation of the Pelham ice arena.

Clarkson passed away quietly at his home, just 11 days from the start of a new season.

Southern Professional Hockey League                          
xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx
  Birmingham Bulls logo   Evansville Thunderbolts logo   Fayetteville Marksmen logo   Huntsville Havoc logo   Knoxville Ice Bears logo  
  Birmingham Bulls   Evansville Thunderbolts   Fayetteville Marksmen   Huntsville Havoc   Knoxville Ice Bears  
  Macon Mayhem logo   Pensacola Ice Flyers logo   Peoria Rivermen logo   Quad City Storm logo   Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs logo  
  Macon Mayhem   Pensacola Ice Flyers   Peoria Rivermen   Quad City Storm   Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs  

March 15, 2020
Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus global pandemic, the Southern Professional Hockey League announces they have cancelled the remaining games of the 2019-20 season.

The league's statement said:
The Southern Professional Hockey League today announced its Board of Governors voted unanimously to cancel of the remainder of the 2019-2020 regular season and playoffs. SPHL Commissioner Doug Price made the following statement:

The decision made to cancel the remainder of the regular season and playoffs was extremely difficult. Difficult in the fact that it brings a premature end to what was shaping up to be a tremendous and potentially historic finish to the season. Two teams were tied for first place, two points separated third through sixth place and one point separated the final four teams. We were all very excited for the last several weeks of hockey.

But what was not difficult was knowing it was absolutely the responsible decision. It was a decision for our players, coaches and game officials. It was a decision for our fans, team staff and arena personnel. What we are all facing right now is bigger than the SPHL, bigger than hockey and bigger than sports.

With state mandates already preventing multiple teams from playing until at least May 1 and the uncertainty surrounding what additional restrictions may be forthcoming, we needed to take a step back and focus on the safety of those who make the SPHL great, from players to parking attendants. Jeopardizing even one person’s health in an attempt to continue the season is not a risk we were willing to even remotely consider. That is not who we are as a league, because we too are a league of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters.

To our fans, I want to thank you for your patience and understanding as we work through this unprecedented series of events. I know you are as disappointed as we are. However, the Board of Governors and I will continue to work diligently over the next few days, weeks and months in anticipation of a return to normalcy and the start of 2020-2021 season. Please continue to support your favorite SPHL team and when we open the arena doors again, we hope to see you there. Back cheering and booing as only hockey fans can. The greatest sports fans in the world.

Be safe and be strong.
October 6, 2020
The league announces their plan for the upcoming 2020-21 season.

Beginning the day after Christmas, only half of the league's teams will participate in a shortened 42-game regular season. Birmingham, Huntsville, Knoxville, Macon, and Pensacola will play.

Due to state and local restrictions related to the continuing pandemic, the other five teams are limited in their ability to host spectators. Evansville, Fayetteville, Peoria, Quad City, and Roanoke must instead prepare their return for the 2021-22 season.

November 24. 2020
  Head coach Craig Simchuk
The Bulls announce Craig Simchuk as the new head coach. He succeeds Jamey Hicks, who will remain with the Bulls as a team consultant while dealing with a family matter in his native Canada.

Simchuk, 31, has been with the Bulls since the beginning and captained the Bulls during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons before retiring from the game.  He then served as an assistant coach with the organization last season.

Hicks lobbied for Simchuk to take over the job he has held for the three seasons the Bulls. “Craig was being groomed for this job. A lot of great coaches go from being a captain, then training as an assistant, and then taking the step to be the head guy. I think everyone knows how I feel. It hurts not being there, but seeing Craig take over is very exciting for me, and to see where he takes this team.”

“Jamey has been a tremendous mentor both on and off the ice. He’s taught me more about the game of hockey and life than I can ever thank him for. I hope to follow in his footsteps and continue what he has started here,” Simchuk said.

Before joining the newly formed Bulls in 2017, Simchuk played two years for the SPHL's Columbus Cottonmouths.

December 2020

Southern Professional Hockey League                          
xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx
  Birmingham Bulls logo   Huntsville Havoc logo   Knoxville Ice Bears logo   Macon Mayhem logo   Pensacola Ice Flyers logo  
  Birmingham Bulls   Huntsville Havoc   Knoxville Ice Bears   Macon Mayhem   Pensacola Ice Flyers
  The teams below sat season out due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions
  Evansville Thunderbolts logo   Fayetteville Marksmen logo   Peoria Rivermen logo   Quad City Storm logo   Roakoke Rail Yard Dawgs logo  
    Evansville Thunderbolts   Fayetteville Marksmen   Peoria Rivermen   Quad City Storm   Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs    

January 15, 2021
The SPHL announces that pursuant to the league’s "Return to Play Protocols", this weekend's games (Knoxville/Huntsville and Birmingham/Pensacola) will feature four-on-four hockey.

Teams will play a full 60-minute game with all standard overtime and shootout rules in place.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a number of league games have already been postponed this season but this is the first time games will be played with reduced player numbers.

October 2021

Southern Professional Hockey League                          
xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx
  Birmingham Bulls logo   Evansville Thunderbolts logo   Fayetteville Marksmen logo   Huntsville Havoc logo   Knoxville Ice Bears logo  
  Birmingham Bulls   Evansville Thunderbolts   Fayetteville Marksmen   Huntsville Havoc   Knoxville Ice Bears  
  Macon Mayhem logo   Pensacola Ice Flyers logo   Peoria Rivermen logo   Quad City Storm logo   Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs logo  
  Macon Mayhem   Pensacola Ice Flyers   Peoria Rivermen
  Quad City Storm   Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs  
  Vermilion County Bobcats logo                  
  Vermilion County Bobcats                  

Champions of the
Southern Professional Hockey League
Year Team Year Team
  2004-05     Columbus Cottonmouths   2016-17     Macon Mayhem
2005-06   Knoxville Ice Bears 2017-18   Huntsville Havoc (2nd)
2006-07   Fayetteville FireAntz 2018-19   Huntsville Havoc (3rd)
2007-08   Knoxville Ice Bears (2nd) 2019-20   Season cut short: COVID-19  
2008-09   Knoxville Ice Bears (3rd) 2020-21   Pensacola Ice Flyers (4th)
2009-10   Huntsville Havoc 2021-22   Peoria Rivermen
2010-11   Mississippi Surge 2022-23   ???
2011-12   Columbus Cottonmouths (2nd)      
2012-13   Pensacola Ice Flyers    
2013-14   Pensacola Ice Flyers (2nd)    
2014-15   Knoxville Ice Bears (4th)    
2015-16   Pensacola Ice Flyers (3rd)    
           Years local team participated

Previous Teams of the                           
Southern Professional Hockey League                            
xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx
  Asheville Aces logo   Augusta RiverHawks logo   Bloomington Thunder logo   Columbus Cottonmouths logo   Fayetteville FireAntz logo  
  Asheville Aces
  Augusta RiverHawks
2010-11 to 2012-13
  Bloomington Thunder
  Columbus Cottonmouths
2004-05 to 2016-17
  Fayetteville FireAntz
2004-05 to 2016-17
  Florida Seals logo   Jacksonville Barracudas logo   Louisiana IceGators logo   Macon Trax logo   Mississippi Surge logo  
  Florida Seals
2005-06 to 2006-07
  Jacksonville Barracudas
2004-05 to 2007-08
  Louisiana IceGators
2009-10 to 2015-16
  Macon Trax
  Mississippi Surge
2009-10 to 2013-14
  Pee Dee Cyclones logo   Richmond Renegades logo   Twin City Cyclones logo   Winston-Salem Polar Twins logo      
  Pee Dee Cyclones
2005-06 to 2006-07
  Richmond Renegades
2006-07 to 2008-09
  Twin City Cyclones
2007-08 to 2008-09
  Winston-Salem Polar Twins
Contact Gene Crowley
Last update: May 13, 2022