When the ice making equipment at Augusta’s James Brown Arena broke down during the end of the 2012-13 season, nobody wanted to pony up the estimated $1.2 million to replace it: not the City of Augusta, Global Spectrum, the management group that was contracted to run the facility, or the Augusta Riverhawks team owner Bob Kerzner. In addition, the team, city officials and arena officials could not reach a settlement regarding the lost revenue for the 8 home games that had to be moved to a 400 seat practice facility due to the ice system’s failure.
So Bob Kerzner began a search for a new place for his minor league hockey team to play. According to Kerzner, “the process was simple. Basically, you need ice to play ice hockey. When Augusta’s pipes rotted out, ... we began looking at alternatives. We went to Greensboro (North Carolina); we called Tallahassee (Florida). There were a lot of different places that we were looking at. Then we found out that Macon had called.”
Kerzner reportedly had not considered Macon, despite its proximity to Augusta, but when the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) office put him in touch with officials at the Macon Centreplex in April, 2014, things moved rather quickly. The Macon-Bibb County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the proposed five-year lease on June 17th, and the SPHL Board of Governors approved the team’s move to Macon. Kerzner, Team President Mark Richards and SPHL President Jim Combs held a press conference on June 25th to announce the franchise would return for the 2015-2016 season as the Macon Mayhem.
Kerzner was lavish in his praise of the way that Macon worked to make the move possible. “We've been treated royally, and we've been treated first class,” Kerzner said. “I told my wife that we'd be stupid not to go to Macon.” Kerzner took the opportunity to unveil the team colors and logo. The decision not take to the ice until the 2015–16 SPHL season allowed the team ample time to develop a fanbase in Central Georgia and corporate sponsors. Kerzner expected to open team offices within a few weeks and planned to hire a head coach at the conclusion of the 2014-15 hockey season.
Columbus Cottonmouths’ Head Coach and General Manager Jerome Bechard supported the decision to take a year to prepare. “You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and with the Macon franchise taking a whole year to prepare and do things right, it's going to be great,” Bechard said. He was also looking forward to re-kindling the rivalry that existed since 1996 when Columbus and Macon were granted franchises in the Central Hockey League.
The Macon Coliseum was built in 1968 and was the first facility of its type in the state of Georgia. It most recently underwent renovations in 2015 and seats 7,100 for hockey.
On February 4th, 2015, the team announced that Kevin Kerr was hired as Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations. The North Bay, Ontario native was selected in the third round of the 1986 NHL Player Draft. In a minor league career that spanned 22 years, Kerr held the minor league record for most goals scored in a career with 677 when he retired in 2005. Kerr had previous coaching experience in the Colonial, United and International Hockey Leagues.
The Mayhem opened their inaugural season on October 23 in front of 3,039 fans, dropping a 5-4 shootout loss to the Knoxville Ice Bears at the Macon Coliseum.
Kerr led the Mayhem to a 24-27-1-4 record in their inaugural season, qualifying for the final SPHL playoff spot. Macon faced first-place Peoria in the first round. The Mayhem shocked the Rivermen, who had won all five regular season meetings, in game one with a 3-2 victory in front of a Wednesday night crowd of 1,206 fans. Peoria defeated Macon in the next two games, winning the best of three series. Average attendance for the season was 2,095 per game, more that the Augusta Riverhawks drew per year during their entire three-year history.
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Mayhem goaltender Garrett Bartus was named the SPHL’s goaltender of the year and was awarded the Easton SPHL Most Valuable Player award. Appearing in 45 games, Bartus led the league in minutes played (2,709), wins (22), saves, (1,421), save percentage (.929), and was tied for the league lead in shutouts (3). His 2.39 goals against average put him in a tie for fourth in the league.
During the off-season, Team President Mark Richards announced he was leaving the team to join his father in the formation of the International Developmental Hockey League (IDHL). It was designed to offer players in the 20-23 age range a structured, organized and competitive league for players who have the dream of playing minor professional hockey or at the collegiate level.
A core of players from the inaugural season, including Jake Trask, Daniel Gentzler, Stephen Pierog, Ryan Michel, Mark Rivera and Nick Grasso, combined with the goaltending tandem of Jordan Ruby and Troy Passingham to lead the Mayhem to a 18-4-4 record through mid-January. This included a ten game winning streak between October 29 through November 26. The team's success was even more significant when you consider that a number of key players were loaned to ECHL teams during the season. On the next to last game of the regular season, the Mayhem clinched a first place finish, defeating Roanoke 4-1 at the Macon Coliseum. The Mayhem finished the season with 80 points and a 28-13-9-6 record.
The first round of the 2017 SPHL playoffs pit the Mayhem against the eighth place Columbus Cottonmouths. Due to a scheduling conflict at the Macon Coliseum, reportedly booked before the June 2014 hockey lease agreement was signed, the Macon Mayhem were forced to play all of the best-of-three first round games at the Columbus Civic Center.
The Cottonmouths took game one 1-0 on the 52 save effort by goaltender Mavric Parks. In game two, Parks and Macon goalie Jordan Ruby were perfect through regulation, but Macon scored at 14:59 of the first overtime to send the series to a third game. The Mayhem outscored the Snakes 6-3 in the deciding game 3, the third game in as many nights for the two teams.
The Mayhem swept Pensacola in round 2 and met Peoria in the finals. Macon won game one at Peoria by a score of 2-1 and returned to home ice for only the second time in the playoffs. A boisterous crowd of 3,784 witnessed the Mayhem take a 1-0 lead late in the first when Dennis Sicard's slapper from the top of the right circle appeared to be deflected off the stick of defenseman Ben Oskroba and beat Peoria goaltender Storm Phaneuf. The Rivermen tied it up less than two minutes into the second. But Jake Trask's goal at 16:11 of the second proved to be the game winner as series MVP Jordan Ruby turned away 12 shots in the third to give Macon its very first hockey championship.
The Mayhem began the defense of their 2017 SPHL Championship with an opening night roster that included thirteen returning players from the previous season. The biggest gap to fill would be in goal, as 2017 playoff MVP Jordan Ruby was offered the opportunity to play in Europe. Troy Passingham, Ruby’s backup for most of the previous season, was loaned to the ECHL at the start of the season, a trend that would continue throughout the 2017-18 campaign.
With the goaltending situation unsettled at the start, the team went 0-2-1 in their first three games of the season, all at home. After back to back wins on the road, the team returned home, only to drop another game in front of the home crowd. It wasn’t until November 10 that the Mayhem won their first home game, behind a 43 save performance by Troy Passingham.
The big story over the course of the season was a total of fourteen of the Mayhem’s top players were loaned to the following ECHL teams: Atlanta, Adirondack, Florida, Greenville, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Orlando, Quad City, Rapid City, Toledo and Worcester. In total, Mayhem players suited up for over 175 ECHL games in 2017-18. While fans should be happy to see their players advance in their hockey careers, one does have to wonder what their impact might have been on the team if they had remained in Macon.
The saddest news came at the end of March when Mayhem Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations Kevin Kerr announced that alternate captain Dennis Sicard has been placed on the injured reserve list for the remainder of the season. The fan favorite was in his 11th SPHL season and had amassed 112 goals, 120 assists, 232 points over 476 career games and currently is the SPHL all-time leader in penalty minutes with 2200.
The Mayhem finished the season in a tie for second place with Pensacola with both teams posting identical records of 33-16-7. The league used both team’s head-to-head season record as a tie breaker, which went to Macon. The top eight teams in the ten team league made the playoffs, and with the newly instituted Challenge Round, the top three teams were given the opportunity to select their first round opponent from the bottom four teams. #1 seed Peoria chose #8 Roanoke, while Macon chose #6 seed Evansville for their first round. The Mayhem dropped game one of the best of three opening round in Evansville by a 2-1 score, but then came home to soundly defeat the Thunderbolts in games two and three. The tables were turned in round two, with Macon picking up the first win in Huntsville but dropping the next two at home, including a heartbreaking overtime loss in the deciding game three.
Mayhem leading scorer Jake Trask and captain Daniel Gentzler both were honored by being named to the 2017-2018 All-SPHL First and Second teams respectively. Regular season attendance hit a three-season high of 2390 per game but still below the league average of 3214.
In May, Macon Mayhem Head Coach, General Manager and Director of Hockey Operations Kevin Kerr announced his resignation to accept the head coaching position with the ECHL Greenville Swamp Rabbits. The Mayhem quickly named assistant coach Leo Thomas as their new Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations. Thomas becomes the first African-American head coach in the Southern Professional Hockey League. Thomas joins a trio of black head coaches in Macon’s hockey history behind John Paris Jr. and Graeme Townshend, who both coached the now defunct Macon Whoopee in the old Central Hockey League from 1996-97 to 2000-01.
The Mayhem started the 2018-19 season having signed goaltender Jordan Ruby and four of their five leading scorers from 2017-18 in Stathis Soumelidis, Caleb Cameron, John Siemer and leading scorer Jake Trask. After dropping their home opener against Pensacola, the Mayhem went on a nine game winning streak. The team started 2019 with a 17-5-3 record. From that point forward, the Mayhem were never able to string together more than two or three wins in a row.
ECHL call-ups helped exacerbate the problem. Goaltenders Gordon Defiel and Jordan Ruby were gone by early December. Defensemen Jake Faiella, Brandon Fehd, Zach Urban and forward Sam Wilbur all spent considerable time in the ECHL. While player call-ups are becoming the norm in the SPHL, it proves the league continues to develop quality talent, which enables players to advance their professional hockey careers.
The Mayhem finished the season in sixth place in the ten team league. Their 27-24-5 record earned them a spot in the SPHL Playoffs. Their first round opponent as determined by the league’s Challenge Round was the Knoxville Ice Bears. Macon had a 5-1-1 record when playing the Ice Bears during the regular season but the Mayhem dropped the first two games of the best of three series, earning them an early exit from the playoffs.
Jarrett Rush, Michael Wills, Mark McGowan, Josh Ranalli and Connor Toomey watch the opening face-off from the bench during the Mayhem's first game in Macon. Photo courtesy of Philly Jones.