Mired in losing, low attendance, Thunderbolts must score big in GM, coach hires | Lindskog


EVANSVILLE, Ind. — I’ll take struggling professional sports franchises for $400, Alex.

This team has no coach, no general manager and has produced two of the seven worst seasons in league history.

“What are the Evansville Thunderbolts?”

This is perhaps the only question I could correctly answer ahead of “Jeopardy!” legend-in-the-making James Holzhauer.

But really, what are the Thunderbolts?

The team has only existed for three years while the non-affiliated Southern Professional Hockey League has been around for 15. Nevertheless, the Thunderbolts tied the third-worst SPHL winning percentage (.268) when they finished a 12-38-6 campaign last month, one-upping their .334 percentage from their inaugural season. That ranks seventh.

No franchise has produced more than one of the other equally bad or worse seasons.

Here’s a tale of the tape for the Thunderbolts so far:

â–º 2016-17: Finished in last place at 14-32-10 while averaging 2,280 fans per game. (The league average was 2,967)


â–º 2017-18: Made playoffs after going 27-20-9 to finish sixth. Lost quarterfinal series 2-1. Saw an overall uptick in attendance with 2,309 fans on average, but that was still an SPHL worst. (League average: 3,214)

► 2018-19: Placed last again at 12-38-6 to finish one win ahead of the SPHL record low while averaging 2,041 spectators, second-worst in the SPHL. (League average: 3,132)

Since then, general manager Adam Sito was fired April 15 and head coach Ian Moran resigned Wednesday, each after one season at the helm.

For transparency, the Courier & Press has dramatically reduced its coverage of the Thunderbolts. We see a lack of interest from the community and our past coverage didn’t resonate with our readership, judging by website and app traffic on the stories. It’s up to management to make the populace care.

The organization originally signed a five-year lease with Ford Center on March 1, 2016. President Scott Schoenike and whoever else remain inside the front office need to decide what exactly they intend to accomplish because there’s no real accomplishment to hang a helmet on so far.

These next hires are crucial if success is a goal.

Schoenike did not respond to the C&P’s request for comment.

It’s tough to succeed in non-affiliated hockey — on the ice and at the ticket office. At its core, it’s a developmental league. Ford Center’s venue is first-class, but the weekly salary cap for an 18-player roster is $5,600. Each team’s ability to scout and cultivate talent is the key to gaining a competitive advantage.

Yes, the average salary for an SPHL player is $311 per week. That basically amounts to Indiana’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, but players put in more work than your basic 40-hour week at the office.

Evansville finished 11 points behind the second-worst team and was 59 points away from the best club. It wasn’t even close to competing. That’s on leadership. What kind of example is the coach setting by getting arrested on drunken driving charges after a game (they lost), anyway?

(Moran pleaded guilty Jan. 25 to a Class C misdemeanor OWI charge and his license was suspended for 30 days. He was referred to the Drug & Alcohol Deferral Service program and if he completes that, the misdemeanor conviction will be dismissed.)

Should’ve just downloaded Uber or Lyft.

In three years, the Thunderbolts finished dead last twice.

In that other season, they made the playoffs, but the league is set up to have parity with eight of the 10 teams qualifying every season. All momentum evaporated once Jeff Pyle left last summer for a coaching gig in the ECHL, which has a salary cap of $13,000 per week.

When the IceMen, also in the ECHL, departed Evansville in 2016, the Thunderbolts seemingly filled a void. They just never took off after failing to win the first 11 games in club history. They’ve never come close to consistently filling seats in the Ford Center, either.

The Thunderbolts have been the Cleveland Browns of the SPHL, but at least the Browns figured out how to escape being the league laughingstock.

What are the Evansville Thunderbolts?

Contact Courier & Press columnist Chad Lindskog by email, clindskog@gannett.com, or on Twitter: @chadlindskog.