Professional hockey returned to Macon after a twenty-two-year hiatus. But there was some rough ice along the way. The Southern Hockey League (SHL) was formed in 1995 out of the Sunshine Hockey League in Florida. In it’s inaugural season, the league had six teams, with three to six additional teams planned for 1996-97. SHL Commissioner Lou Corletto had long been interested in a Macon franchise due to it’s geographic location and of course that name. In early 1996, Corletto was successful in locating an ownership group in Virginia, Richard Ray and Pat Nugent.
But Corletto’s problems were just beginning. Attendance across the fledgling league was poor, with the majority of the teams drawing less than 1,500 fans per game. In addition, there was competition from rival leagues expanding into the southeast. By the summer of 1996, the SHL was forced to suspend operations. The Macon franchise, along with Columbus and Huntsville, joined the Central Hockey League (CHL) based in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The twenty-two years had not been kind to the Macon Coliseum’s ice making equipment. The system installed in the floor in the late 1960’s consisted of galvanized pipe through which was circulated a chilled brine solution. Over the years, the piping system was not properly maintained and the majority of the piping had rusted itself shut. The new owners would be forced to pony up a sizeable chunk of change to have the ice floor redone before training camp began.
Ray and Nugent elected to keep the original name, minus the S, and settled on a logo which featured a large fig leaf and incorporated the m over w design element from the original 1973 Whoopees logo. The new owners hired former Atlanta Knights coach John Paris Jr., who had 26 years of coaching and scouting experience. Paris, along with Assistant Coach Dave Starman, assembled teams that reached the CHL playoffs during the Whoopee’s first three seasons, averaging over 3,600 fans per game.
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Before the end of the inaugural season, Ray and Nugent made the first move to secure local ownership for the team. Over time, differences in philosophies related to promotional and marketing strategies created turnaround in the front office. By season three, the original owners were both gone, and the team was owned by the Macon Sports Group. Principal owners were Brother Stewart, who owned Bibb Distributing and Jeffrey Fried, a Macon physician. Keith Burdette was brought in as President and John Paris Jr. took on the dual roles of Head Coach and General Manager. The team also introduced its new logo during season three, featuring an angry Whooping crane wielding a hockey stick. The fig leaf remained in the background and the bee added as a reference to the "birds and the bees."
By the start of season four, former NHL player Graeme Townshend had replaced Paris as Head Coach. It was Townshend's first coaching job. The team went 36-24-0-10 and made it to the second round of the CHL playoffs before losing to in-state rival Columbus.
2000-01 saw the Whoopee field 58 different players over the course of the season, with a 23-36-0-11 overall record, making this the first season the team failed to reach the playoffs.
During the summer of 2001, the Central Hockey League underwent a merger with the Western Professional Hockey League. With the impending changes in travel to the new western cities, only Memphis and Indianapolis remained in the CHL. The Whoopee joined rival Columbus in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). Gord Dineen led the team to a 29-31-0-0-12 record but failed to make the playoffs. Attendance dropped below 3000 for the first time in franchise history, and with the increased player salaries in the ECHL, the franchise was sold and relocated to Lexington, Kentucky for the 2002-03 season.
To view team stats from 1996-2001(CHL), click HERE.
To view team stats from 2001-2002(ECHL), click HERE.