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.