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.

10 comments on “Kromm replaced as Evansville IceMen coach

  1. Lynnsman on said:

    Mr. Beard,
    Believe it or not, Coach Kromm was the third coach in IceMen history and Todd Robinson was the third team captain in the history of the team. This is minor league hockey, players come and go every year and coaching is not the most stable job to get into in hockey. This coming year just like everyone of the last four, the IceMen Maniacs will support our hockey team and we will also support our coach. As far as Robinson goes, HE LEFT OUR TEAM and OUR TOWN. Hopefully you will be able to hire someone to maybe make it to a few games and possibly give the IceMen the coverage that they deserve.

    • Yes, believe it or not, I was the one who pushed to cover the IceMen during those early Single A years with Jason Reichart as the first coach, pulled out of a girls rec league. And then Jack Collins, who raised the bar and led the team through a stunning playoff run to a title in that mish-mash league. Was there to cover the clinching game at Swonder.

      My point is that with the added professionalism that came when Ron Geary put more money into the team needed a coach and a captain that made themselves available and were always professional whether the team won or lost. Rich Kromm and Todd Robinson went out of their way to be helpful and thus did a good job promoting the team.

      I know all about the comings and going in pro sports, and I know like all minor leagues the ECHL isn’t immune to franchise re-locations. I was in Tallahassee when that city lost an ECHL team because its absentee owner didn’t get a sweetheart deal when it was time to renegotiate the arena contract. He also had an arena2 football team in town that he pulled out of Tallahassee.

      As for our coverage, our track record of being at home games was over 90 percent the last 2/3rds of the season. The early season when games can conflict with everything else we have to cover on Fridays and Saturdays has been a challenge the past two years. I hope to have that resolved by next fall.

  2. Eric Titzer on said:

    I disagree. I believe it is the front office staff, the Ford Center, and the fans who have made Evansville a viable hockey market. The personnel on the team was constantly changing. Yes, the coach and captain remained the same across the last couple of season when we saw an explosion of interest but the combination of a new arena with more seating, a front office staff that worked tirelessly to make games a great experience and the fans who made sure to share their tickets when they could not make it to a game along with sharing their enthusiasm for the team has made this a hockey town.

    • Eric Titzer on said:

      All of this, despite the lack of interest displayed by some of our media outlets too.

    • Good points and clearly a team can’t succeed without a solid and growing fan base. I also agree the front office has done a great job promoting the team. As for the contributions of Kromm and Robinson, I was speaking from my perspective of the two of them always being available to answer questions and explain tactics.

  3. Dixie Halber on said:

    Stunned mostly. I liked Rich a lot, he was a really good guy. I expected him to have at least another season. But apparently Mr. Geary had other plans. It will be very interesting to see how the team changes going forward. I think all bets are off about which players will return. The Maniacs will be behind them regardless, but it is an adjustment.

    I think there have been a lot of people behind making Evansville a hockey market. TRob and Kromm were just one piece of the picture. Hockey will continue to thrive in Evansville, it’s just started a new chapter.

    • Dixie, I agree they were just part of it. And clearly, Todd was nearing the end of his playing career even if he was still putting up good offensive numbers. I wish them both the best of luck. Both were always good to me, and very patient in doing what they could to promote hockey.

  4. Don Brecht on said:

    LOL face of the icemen??? are you kidding me ……. the only thing that Kromm or Robinson did for the team was make excuses ….. the FACE of the team would be Brad Perkins ….. the Voice of the team would be Fic …. and the Leader on the team would have been Dale this season…. Maybe if you covered them more you would know more about them.. Just cause someone was the coach ( that never won a playoff game ) or the captain that was over a -30 ( thats a hockey term … look it up ) DOES NOT make them the face of the Icemen. You sir, should stick to basketball.

    • You’re entitled to your opinion of course, but it’s hard for me to believe many people would consider Brad (or any fan) as THE FACE of the franchise — with or without the face paint.

      And clearly, Fic does a ton of work promoting the team and is undeniably the VOICE of the IceMen — even if there are times when he’s hard to understand with the inflections in his voice.

      The point I was making is that Kromm and Robinson, and to a lesser degree Phillipe Plante, did a lot to be accessible to the media. I’d put Brian Bicek in that group, and I still believe it was a mistake to let him go — though looking at his stats this year, I’m guessing they shoulder is still bothering him.

      And yes, I know how the plus-minus system works, and I realize Robinson’s diminishing speed was a probably defensive liability, and it didn’t help that the roster lacked stability. But Todd also was still very much an effective offensive player.

  5. I appreciate the responses. It will be interesting to see what Jeff Pyle can do here with his track record of winning and developing players.

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