Hockey Hotbed

BUZZ BUILDS FOR SAVANNAH GHOST PIRATES DEBUT

BY ANTHONY GARZILLI | PHOTO SUPPLIED 

Hockey is hot. The Savannah Ghost Pirates, a professional minor league hockey team set to make its debut in October, plan to bring a “major-market experience” to the area, said Bryan Sklover, community relations director.

The buzz has been building, with season ticket sales exceeding 5,000 — including about 1,000 season ticket holders from the Bluffton and Hilton Head Island area.

Sklover said any idea that hockey can’t be successful in the South is outdated. The city has hosted the Savannah Hockey Classic for 23 years, and the 9,500- seat Enmarket Arena (6,700 for hockey) where the Ghost Pirates will play is a top venue to host the fastpaced sport.

“The notion that hockey doesn’t work in the South is kind of an old-school kind of mentality,” Sklover said. “Between the technology to have the quality of ice that will allow us to play the game at a high level, matched with just the way people in the South love competition, love fast sports, love big hits — there’s a lot of indicators that show hockey will work here.”

The Ghost Pirates, who will play 36 regular season home games (72 overall), will compete in the ECHL, which includes teams from Charleston, S.C., Orlando, Fla., and Jacksonville, Fla. The season begins Oct. 22 at Greenville. The home opener is against Greenville on Nov. 5.

The team’s name was chosen after more than 3,000 entries were received in a “Name Your Team” contest. The name embodies the history and folklore of Savannah, according to Ghost Pirates President, Bob Ohrablo.

“It was important that the name reflects the culture of our team’s city,” he said in a news release. Sklover said the Ghost Pirates’ outreach goes beyond Savannah. The team’s mascot, Davy, visited Bluffton Middle School in September, and Sklover said he hopes Davy will visit the Adventure Playground Ship at Lowcountry Celebration Park on Hilton Head Island.

“That’s a perfect spot for Davy to introduce hockey to kids in the area,” Sklover said.

The hockey is expected to be high quality. The Ghost Pirates are affiliated with the Vegas Golden Knights of the National Hockey League and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Henderson Silver Knights. They will be coached by Rick Bennett, who played in the NHL for the New York Rangers and coached in the Eastern College Athletic Conference for 11 years.

The players aspire to move up and eventually compete for the NHL team.

“It’s going to be very exciting,” Sklover said. “I can tell you, Vegas has a high intention of seeing our players move up. Vegas is looking for young people to make a name for themselves.”

At the start of last season, the ECHL had 70 players on NHL opening-day rosters. And as of the end of the 2021-2022 season, 727 players have competed in the NHL after playing in the professional league, according to the ECHL, including 29 former ECHL players who debuted in the NHL last season.

Sklover has seen firsthand the rise of an ECHL player to the NHL. When he worked for the Orlando Solar Bears, he watched the team’s openingnight goaltender, John Curry, eventually earn a promotion to compete for the playoff-bound Minnesota Wild.

“That says everything you need to know about the stature and the quality of the players,” he said.

For a complete schedule and ticket information (single-game tickets go on sale in early October) visit ghostpirateshockey.com.