The Sports Lounge presents… REMEMBER THEM: Louisiana Ice Gators
The Louisiana Ice Gators are the most popular hockey team in Louisiana. So much so that the team came back recently in the SPHL. But this article is about the original Ice Gators team that played in the ECHL from 1995 to 2005. They played in Lafayette, LA at the Cajundome. The Ice Gators were last an affiliate of the Minnesota Wild of the NHL and the Houston Aeros of the AHL. The last head coach of the Ice Gators was Todd Gordon, most recently the coach of the Pensacola Ice Flyers of the SPHL.
Louisiana never won the ECHL Championship but won the division title 7 of their 10 years. They were also one of the top teams in the ECHL in terms of attendance. They have the top 4 regular season average attendance numbers in ECHL history. In 1997, the team hosted 4 capacity crowds of 11.800 in the Cajundome. Nine of the ten largest postseason crowds in ECHL history were in the Cajundome. They also hold the record for the highest attendance at an ECHL All-Star game with 11, 493. Even though attendance with great, as with most things, it eventually declined and the 300-level of the Cajundome was closed off. This was the beginning of the end for the Ice Gators.
The Ice Gators had their share of good players in their history. But the two players that stick out are D Chris Valicevic and G Frederic Cloutier. Valicevic played 7 seasons with the Ice Gators and was named an ECHL All-Star all 7 seasons, an ECHL record. Of those All-Star selections, he was named to the First Team All-ECHL team 5 times. This is also a record. He was the ECHL MVP in the 1998-1999 season and when he retired, he finished his career with 460 assists and 611 points. He played in a record 102 postseason games and is the career regular season and postseason leader among defensemen in assists and points. Valicevic was inducted in the ECHL Hall of Fame in 2008.
Cloutier, goaltender, played in the ECHL, QMJHL, AHL, AND LNAH. He is currently still playing in Austria. He was the ECHL MVP and Rookie of the Year in the 2001-2002 season. Cloutier owns records for the most shutouts in a season (7), lowest goals against average in a season (1.84), and highest save percentage in a season (.945).
After folding in 2005, Lafayette had to wait until 2009 for hockey to return. The Ice Gators were back, but now members of the Southern Professional Hockey League. I attended a game on December 31, 2012 and had a great time. I was unfortunate and did not get the chance to attend an original Ice Gators game so I have no comparison, but I think that the people of Lafayette are happy just to have hockey back in town.