ECHL: History of The Greenville Swamp Rabbits

1998-2006 Greenville Grrrowl

In 1998, Greenville started a new professional sports journey in the form of a hockey team. Hockey in the upstate seemed like a high pitch for popularity, right? Well, not quite. During their first season, 1998-1999, the Grrrowl recorded 7,000 spectators per game. Though they didn’t qualify for the Kelly Cup Playoffs, the inaugural season of professional hockey in Greenville could be considered a success.

It’s worth mentioning about the playoffs and Grrrowls’ head coach: during their full run 1998-2006, former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman John Marks led the team to four playoff appearances in just eight seasons. The Grrrowl would go on to win the Kelly Cup in the 2001-2002 season when they beat the Dayton Bombers.

Despite being in their final two seasons in Greenville, the Grrrowl had playoff appearances during the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 seasons. Although they didn’t advance past the second round, the Greenville team was present in the playoffs, nonetheless. Regardless of being in the playoffs, the 2004-2005 season started to wear on the Grrrowl’s attendance, slipping past 7,000 spectators to just 2,100. The loss in mass attendance began to lose the organization money, as investors were no longer interested in the team. On June 15, 2005, the BI-LO Center (now known as Bon Secours Wellness Arena) offered the organization over 300k in cash to keep the Grrrowl afloat. However, the Grrrowl declined their offer in 2006 and ceased operations in July. ECHL hockey in Greenville disappeared, but not for long!

Greenville Road Warriors —2010-2015

Greenville had a four-year absence from professional hockey until the Johnstown Chiefs relocated the franchise to Greenville to become the Road Warriors in 2010. The Johnstown Chiefs relocated from Virginia due to losing money, struggling to pay bills at their arena, and finding new ownership. On February 15, 2010, reports had been confirmed that the Chiefs would relocate, as the ECHL Board of Governors and Greenville’s Arena District Board approved a five-year deal to reside at BI-LO Center. The Road Warriors’ inaugural season was very successful, as they became the second inaugural franchise in the ECHL to win a regular season conference in their first season as they had a 46-22-4 record. With the leadership of rookie head coach Dean Stork, the team had nine players with over 40 points in the regular season, along with a defense that gave up the fewest goals. The Road Warriors would also go to the playoffs, advancing past the opening round and concluding at round two. Despite not advancing past the second round, the Road Warriors Inaugural season was a success similar to the Grrrowl.The next season, 2011-2012, would look a little different for the Road Warriors, as they had a record of 41-25-2 in 72 games. They would end up losing in the opening round of the playoffs. The 2012-2013 season would look even worse for the Greenville team, with a win/loss record of 36-28-2 and six shootout losses in 72 games. Despite having the worst record so far, the Road Warriors still qualified for the playoffs. But they only made it to round one, as the Reading Royals defeated them 4-2. The 2013-2014 season would see an improvement in playoff round appearances, as the Road Warriors made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and had a 39-27-2 regular season record. The Road Warrior’s appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals would get shut down by the Cincinnati Cyclones. In their final season as Road Warriors, the 2014-2015 season would be disappointing with a record of 39-29-1-3, and

the Greenville team would miss the playoffs for the first time in their franchise history. As a result of the poor final season as Road Warriors, head coach Dean Stork would be released from his duties. The Road Warriors had a short run with their branding when they rebranded into the now-known Swamp Rabbits in 2015. However, the legacy of the Road Warriors lives on in the form of junior hockey. The Greater Greenville Hockey Association has travel hockey for youth/junior players that compete in Greenville and across the country.

2015-Present — Greenville Swamp Rabbits

On August 26, 2015, the Greenville ECHL organization received help from designing firm Brandiose to completely rebrand the franchise into Swamp Rabbits; unlike the Road Warriors branding, the Swamp Rabbits identity/branding is a reference to the historical legacy of Greenvilles’ Swamp Rabbit Trail. The new identity would connect to the local community within Greenville, allowing local residents to grasp a team that made sense to where they lived.

The Swamp Rabbits first season in 2015-2016 had a disappointing record of 29-33-9-1, with no playoff appearance. However, the 2016-2017 season would look much better, as the Swamp Rabbits recorded a 40-26-5 record and would make the playoffs but lose in round one against their state rivals, South Carolina Stingrays. There was a sudden change in records from fifth in the South during the 2015-2016 season to 2nd place in the South in the 2016-2017 season. But those records would look different during the 2017-2018 season. The Swamp Rabbits finished 2017-2018 with a 24-40-7-1 record, finishing last in the South and having their affiliation with the New York Rangers terminated shortly after the season concluded. The team had a terrible consistency with goaltending, fielding se goalies throughout the season, and having a 76.5% penalty kill. As a result of the poor standing season, the 2018-2019 season would see a coaching change, with Kevin Kerr being named head coach and Kahlil Thomas being the assistant coach. Though the coaching change was a start, the 2018-2019 season ended like the previous one: having no playoff appearance and recording a 25-41-3-3 record; there were also a lot of injuries, which put the hope of qualifying for the playoffs on snooze until next season. The 2019-2020 sparked a new frontier of the Swamp RRabbit’sidentity and image; on June 26, 2019, the Carolina Hurricanes and Charlotte Checkers announced their affiliation agreement. This new affiliation created the “Carolina Hockey Alliance”. Such huge titles of hockey teams are now being affiliated nearby. The Carolina Hurricanes saw success that season, going into the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Checkers advancing and winning in the Calder Cup Finals. During this season for the Swamp Rabbits, the team saw 16 players with AHL calls up’s, which allowed them to gain the necessary high-level professional experience. It was such a monumental moment for the affiliated teams, especially the Swamp Rabbits; however, it would be concluded too soon. As we all went through it, Covid ravaged the hockey industry, shutting down or suspending playing operations until later in the year. Unlike the NHL, the ECHL canceled the remainder of the season on March 12. Upon the season’s cancellation, the Swamp Rabbits recorded a 29-30-4-1 2019-2020 record and played only 64 games; however, the 2020-2021 season would look different for the Greenville tver. Following the beginning of the season, the Carolina Hurricanes swapped their affiliations from Charlotte Checkers to the Chicago Wolves; the Swamp Rabbits remained affiliated with the Checkers and affiliated with the Florida Panthers. An affiliation change like this did not make much sense, as the Carolina Hockey Alliance was understandable for proximity; still, at least the Rabbits had the Checkers for AHL call up’s. With an affiliation alteration, the Greenville team also saw new ownership. On May 15, 2020, Spire Sports bought a majority stake in the club and put in Todd Mackin as team president. Finishing off the regular season, the Swamp Rabbits recorded a 38-19-6-4 record and made it to the semifinals of the playoffs but got defeated by the South Carolina Stingrays. The next season of 2021-2022 had a new head coach, Andrew Lord, and recorded 33-29-6-4. The Rabbits nearly missed the pitch to qualify for the playoffs, marking 4th in the South; the playoff run concluded in round one against Florida. Last season, 2022-2023, the Swamp Rabbits had a record-breaking season and a new affiliation agreement with Ontario Reign and LA Kings.

The Rabbits put up a 40-23-8-1 season with 89 points, 244 goals, and a 55% win percentage. The only seasons they had more goals were in 2016-2017 when they scored 251 goals, and 2010-2011, with 255. Despite the high record and being 3rd in the South and 4th in the league, the Rabbits couldn’t advance farther than round one of the Kelly Cup Playoffs against Jacksonville. Although the playoffs did not advance further than hoped, the LA Kings and Ontario Reign-affiliated Swamp Rabbits had multiple players called up. Several players stood out on the team, including but not limited to: Alex Ierullo, Nikita Pavlychev, Brett Kemp, and Tyler Inamoto. During the 2022-23 season, Greenville had five forwards who recorded 20 or more goals.

Alex Ierullo, the Rabbits All-Star participant, had 60 assists and 27 goals and was called up once from Ontario Reign. With another season as LA Kings and Ontario Reign affiliates, it’s safe to say that the Rabbits are in good hands to have another successful season.

Greenville has had a long and renowned history of ECHL hockey. From three wad multiple playoff appearances to remarkable and talented players making their names known, and to a great formed community within Greenville. What the Swamp Rabbits will do next is unclear, but its path has been carved into wanting a first-ever franchise won Kelly Cup.

Jake Farmer

I'm a photographer and writer covering the ECHL Greenville Swamp Rabbits based in Greenville, South Carolina. Twitter and Instagram: JakeCF.Hockey

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