The love-hate relationship between readers and writers

I’ve been doing this sports writing thing professionally since 1976, which is the year I was named the Sigma Delta Chi South Carolina Rookie Journalist of the Year while working as a one-man sports staff, backup photographer and backup news reporter for the Beaufort Gazette.
I’ve won state press association honors in three states — South Carolina, Florida and Indiana. I’ve been named a top 10 columnist by the Associated Press Sports Editors Association. I’ve served as a vice president of APSE and overseen the small newspaper caucus. And, as I like to brag, I’ve spent time sitting in a golf cart with Jan Stephenson. And it was the 1986 Jan Stephenson, too. So yeah, there have been days where it has been good to be me.
Alas, there have been a lot more days when it hasn’t been good to be me.
Having been a sports editor at three newspapers in three states for a total of 23 years, I’ve been accused of being a grad of at least 50 high schools and 15 colleges.
And at the moment there is a group of Evansville IceMen fans who are convinced I hate hockey.
Seriously, that’s not true. When I was the sports editor in Tallahassee, there was an ECHL team, the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, that my staff covered. I even had a dedicated writer for the team.
But three years after I arrived in town, the Tiger Sharks moved and Tallahassee was no longer a hockey town.
Keep that in mind as IceMen owner Ron Geary makes his threats about moving the team if he doesn’t get a better deal with the city over Ford Center rent.
Guess what, folks? UE isn’t going anywhere. Neither is the USI. Neither are any of the SIAC high school athletic programs.
But the IceMen? Who knows if Geary’s threats are real or if he’s just crying wolf again.
There’s one other factor that sometimes forces us to chase the IceMen when they are at home. It’s simple, really. We only have a five-person sports staff compared to the 11 I had in Tallahassee, so we have to prioritize what we staff at times.
I wish that wasn’t the case, but its the reality of newspaper economics these days. The number of newsroom staff in Tallahassee isn’t what it used to be, either.
But I want to make it clear that I don’t root against any of the teams in Evansville. I also don’t cheer for any of them like a fan. I’m a journalist, and we aren’t supposed to cheer in the press box.
But I would prefer that the Aces, Eagles, IceMen and Otters won. Ditto, for the best area high school teams in each sport.
Losing coaches and players make for grumpy coaches and players, which makes it much more difficult to write entertaining stories anyone will read on the web or in print.
So please don’t hate. And I’ll try to be a little less snarky on my Tweets.

Kromm replaced as Evansville IceMen coach

Rich Kromm has been replaced as the Evansville IceMen’s head coach and general manager after the team finished in the North Division cellar in its first season in the ECHL.

Effective July 1, veteran ECHL coach Jeff Pyle will begin his duties as the team’s head coach and director of hockey operations.

Pyle, 54, has coached six other teams since he retired from his pro playing career in 1990-91. His coaching career began in Germany, where he posted a record of 142-81-31 from 1993 to 1998 with four teams. He has coached in the ECHL for 12 seasons, mostly recently the 2010-11 season with Gwinnett. He led Gwinnett to the 2006 Kelly Cup finals.

He has an overall ECHL record of 446-323-91 and was appointed as an ECHL All-Star Game coach three consecutive seasons.

He coached the Texas Stars of the AHL in 2011-12, but was dismissed after the team finished in the cellar of the Western Conference with a 31-40-5 record.

The Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. played college hockey at Northern Michigan before competing professionally in the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League. He was the MVP of the IHL in 1986-87.

In his three seasons leading the team, including one year playing home games at tiny Swonder Ice Arena, Kromm posted an 86-94-24 regular-season record with the franchise. Two of the seasons were in the Central Hockey League, where the team also was 0-4 in the 2011-12 playoffs after a promising regular season. The IceMen finished second in the CHL’s Turner Conference that season with a 40-22-4 record <-> three points behind division leader and rival Fort Wayne (40-19-7).

This season, however, the transition to the ECHL wasn’t a smooth one despite affiliation agreements with NHL teams Columbus and St. Louis and their AHL affiliates in Springfield, Mass., and Peoria, Ill.

The team didn’t post a win until its eighth game and finished with a 25-40-7 record. With a prolonged NHL lockout leading to non-stop roster movement between the IceMen and the AHL teams, a total of 59 players suited up for Evansville. Some of that player turnover also was due to injuries.

The 25 wins tied San Francisco for second fewest in the CHL this season, ahead of only Bakersfield’s 22 wins. Evansville’s 57 points were second worse to Bakersfield’s 50.

But it also was just 13 points behind Fort Wayne, which also made the difficult transition from the CHL to the ECHL.

With Kromm’s dismissal and the departure of team captain Todd Robinson, the IceMen have lost the two people who have done the most for the franchise in terms of making Evansville a viable hockey market. Besides their work on the ice, both Kromm and Robinson were always accessible to my staff and I — even after difficult losses when the last thing they probably wanted to do is talk to a reporter.

I appreciated that and only wish Kromm the best. I thought he at least deserved one more season to make the transition to the ECHL in a more normal year of roster building. He even admitted that the uncertainty of the lockout led him to sign fewer players to IceMen contracts than he wanted because he was concerned about having too many players sent down at once from the AHL teams.

But in the world of professional sports — even at the AA hockey level — it all comes down to wins and losses.

What do the IceMen Maniacs think about the move? Some have already weighed in and I’d be interested to hear more.

He said it: Evansville IceMen coach Rich Kromm

Evansville IceMen coach Rich Kromm reflected on what went wrong this season and what the future looks like:

Talk about what you learned from this past season, what went wrong and what needs to be fixed before next season?
RICH KROMM: I think the big thing was the lockout. It was unusual. In a normal year, you obviously want to understand what you are going to get from your affiliates as far as the amount of players and what kind of players you are going to get from them.
I think the important thing, no matter what, is to make sure you have a strong core of your own guys who can carry the load when you need them to do that regardless of what happens with your affiliates.
For us, we should have had that, but the injuries that we had, particularly Matt Gens, Phil Plante when they got them really hurt our back end. Those (injuries) left us thin in the back for most of the season because we didn’t have a lot of players being assigned to us from either affiliate at that position.
The only one we had was (Anton) Blomqvist, and he was hurt quite a bit of the time as well.
I think that’s going to be very important. And obviously, staying healthy is important.
It’s been an unusual year with lengthy injuries to key players.

Is it possible to have more stability with affiliate agreements so there isn’t as much player turnover as you had this season? That had to make it tough to develop any cohesiveness.
RICH KROMM: It can go that way or you can get really lucky and get a benefit having those affiliated guys for maybe an extended period of time.
We didn’t have as much interaction with Springfield as we did with Peoria. Peoria had a lot of forwards that we’d get two for a week and then they’d go and they’d send us another couple. So it was a lot of turnover from St. Louis through Peoria.

So with the NHL labor situation settled, do you anticipate next season being a little smoother in terms of hanging on to players you get from Triple A teams?
RICH KROMM: I think you would probably have more consistency with that than we did this year. Unless there are a lot of injuries that last a long time then you are going to get depleted.
Like Cincinnati, they had most of their guys all year long and it got to the point for them at the end of the year when they had to submit their playoff roster they had to leave some very good players off the roster because they had so much depth going into the playoffs.
They had a fairly consistent group of guys there all year.
The biggest factor for us in terms of winning games and competing was the injuries to our core guys who were hurt for as long as they were.

How many players do you expect back next season from this year’s team?
RICH KROMM: Probably a handful. I have to sit down and really evaluate and discuss a few things with (owner) Ron Geary. I was really happy with the way some young guys stepped up at the end.
(Daniel) Tetrault really became a stronger leader on and off the ice. He’s been called up to Peoria to play there now, but he’s a guy that really stepped up. Jason Dale had a great year all year from a competitive standpoint. He really stepped up his role.
Jake Obermeyer stepped up as storong leader
At the end of the day we were playing pretty good hockey.
Some of the young players we brought in really helped us. They only played a handful of games but some of those guys were pretty impressive, like (Chris) Forfar and (Peter) Sakaris.

You released Todd Robinson so he could return to the CHL for the playoffs. Is he gone for good?
RICH KROMM: We maintain his rights. We suspended him when he left because you have to do that to maintain a player’s rights in the league. We have his rights if he decides he wants to play. We’ll talk about it.
Worst case, we still have his rights if he wants to play in the league. His wife has just got a pretty good job in Muskeegon (Mich.)and he may want to stay closer to there.