The Sports Lounge presents… REMEMBER THEM: Baton Rouge Kingfish
In the midst of the chase for the Stanley Cup, let’s take a look back at the Baton Rouge Kingfish of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). The Kingfish’s story begins in Eerie, Pennsylvania. The Eerie Panthers were a charter member of the ECHL and relocated to Baton Rouge, LA after the 1995 season. The city held a team-naming contest and Kingfish was chosen in honor of former LA Governor and US Senator Huey P. Long.
The Kingfish played their home games in the Riverside Centroplex (now known as the Baton Rouge River Center). The Kingfish were affiliate of the St. Louis Blues of the NHL. They would be the resident hockey team in Baton Rouge until their departure after the 2003 season. After leaving, the team relocated to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and played as the Salmon Kings until 2011.
But before the Kingfish left town, they had plenty of coaches, players, and rivalries to remember them by. The Kingfish had two great in-state rivalries with the Lafayette Ice Gators and the New Orleans Brass. Lafayette, the most successful city for hockey in Louisiana, was only 50 miles west of Baton Rouge and set up a natural rivalry. The two teams played for the Atchafalaya Governor’s Cup. The team with the best head-to-head record during the season would win the cup. Baton Rouge won the cup in their first season despite finishing the season with a worse record than the Ice Gators. After the New Orleans Brass joined the league, this created a second rival for the Kingfish and they too joined in the fun. When New Orleans became a third member in this in-state rivalry, the trophy was renamed the Hibernia Cup.
The Kingfish also had some notable coaches on their bench throughout their stay. Pierre McGuire is a name that hockey fans should easily recognize. He is a commentator for the NHL on NBC. Dave Schultz is the NHL all-time record holder for penalty minutes in a season with 472 minutes. And Cam Brown, the most popular Kingfish player, served as player/coach during the end of the team’s time in Baton Rouge.
And as for the players on the ice, the Kingfish had 4 players that were in the NHL before coming to Baton Rouge and 7 players that went on to play in the NHL. Reed Low twice accumulated over 50 penalty minutes in a single game. Alexandra Burrows was inducted into the Canadian and International Ball Hockey Hall of Fames. Raitis Ivanans still plays hockey in the Kontinental Hockey League. Shane Hnidy played for 6 NHL franchises and currently broadcasts games for the Winnipeg Jets. David Van Drunen and Travis Scott played one game in the NHL and played for various other leagues. But probably the most well known of these players is Johan Hedburg. Hedburg was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers and has played for the Thrashers, Stars, Canucks, Penguins, and Devils. As of this past season, he was still a member of the Devils.
While Hedburg may be the most known player in Kingfish history, he was not the most popular with Baton Rouge fans. That honor goes to Cam Brown. Brown played from 1987-2006 with teams in the NHL, ECHL, WHL, IHL, AHL, and CZE. In the NHL, he played only one game with the Vancouver Canucks. But with the Kingfish, Brown was either the captain or player/coach every year he played except his first year in Baton Rouge. He was on the ice for every Kingfish game and holds ECHL career records for games played and penalty minutes. He had his #44 retired in Baton Rouge. The only other number retired is #55 for defenseman Scott Humeniuk who suffered a stroke while a member of the team. Brown was also inducted into the ECHL Hall of Fame in 2010.
So while the Kingfish may have had a brief stay in Baton Rouge, their history is loaded with great players, great coaches, and great rivalries. I think it is a shame that there is not more minor league hockey in Louisiana. I love to watch a good, physical hockey game. But, it is south Louisiana. And hockey is not what people down here talk about. But for the time they were here, the Kingfish left plenty to remember them by.