I don’t know about you, Icemen faithful, but I miss hockey. With the roster beginning to round out, training camp on the way, and the month of October beginning to creep around the corner, we’ve now reached the part of the off-season I affectionately refer to as purgatory. It’s that time of the summer when hockey season is just close enough that a dip in the evening temperatures carries the familiar feeling of a night spent at the arena. The sensation of a Florida fall breeze brings a message: “it’s almost hockey season.” Opening night is on the horizon, and we’re approaching the final stretch.
Although there’s still a bit longer to wait to see the team in action, there is a lot to catch up on when it comes to the Jacksonville Icemen. Burn some of that summertime sadness off with the latest Icemen Off-Season Round-Up.
If Not Now, When?
The Icemen announced on August 31st that changes were made to this season’s schedule. The schedule updates impacted the entire league but brought with them 13 changes to the Icemen’s 2023-24 schedule. Opening night is still set for October 21st, when the Icemen are set to take on the most recent Kelly Cup Champions and in-state foes, the Florida Everblades. However, four of the schedule changes pertain to Icemen home games. Fans should refer to this release from the team for the full list of schedule updates to avoid missing any of the action on home ice.
Just Here For A Good Time
Following the updated schedule release, the team announced on September 1st the full list of promo nights set for the upcoming season. The annual “field trip game” is set to take place on November 2nd, with the return of Pucks and Paws happening on November 18th (and again on January 27th). The Teddy Bear Toss will take place on December 2nd when the Icemen take on the Trois-Rivieres Lions, one of the few games the Icemen play against an out-of-division opponent this season. The team is hosting both a Marvel Comics and a DC Comics theme night, with the Marvel game taking place on December 22nd and the DC Comics game happening later in the season on April 12th. The Lizard Kings will return to the ice at VyStar Memorial the weekend of January 12th and the 13th, with the Rowdy Reptiles squaring up against the South Carolina Stingrays and Greenville Swamp Rabbits that Friday and Saturday night, respectively. On Sunday, March 3rd, the team will host the Mascot Games, as they do battle against the Orlando Solar Bears in a matinee clash. Other popular promo nights returning include Cancer Awareness Night on February 10th, Guns N’ Hoses Night on March 2nd, and Hockey Is For All night on March 23rd. The complete list of promo events scheduled for the 2023-24 season can be found below.
Hey, New Guy!
The team stayed busy filling out the roster during the month of August. As it currently stands, the Icemen roster consists of 12 forwards, nine defensemen, and one lone goaltender. The Icemen kicked off the month by adding two rookie forwards in, Dominick Mersch and Luke Bignell. Both forwards just wrapped up collegiate careers, Mersch with the University of Wisconsin and Bignell with the University of Guelph. Mersch and Bignell have each been described as players with a tenacious work ethic and the ability to drive the puck from end to end. The two rookies weren’t the only new faces to join the Icemen’s forward group, though.
Shoring up more two-way offensive depth, the Icemen signed forward Garrett Van Wyhe to a one-year deal for the 2023-24 season on August 10th. Van Wyhe split the season last year between the Adirondack Thunder and Fort Wayne Komets and looks as if he can be an asset to the Icemen on special teams. Alongside announcing the return of defenseman Garret Cockerill, the team also announced the addition of his younger brother Logan to the roster. Logan Cockerill is the third rookie forward to join the team for the upcoming season and joins the Icemen roster after finishing a year competing in the Swedish HockeyAllsvenskan league. A left-handed shot, the younger Cockerill brother adds a new offensive scoring threat to the Icemen line-up.
Jacksonville signed four forwards in August that will be returning to the Icemen offense. Easton Brodzinksi, Craig Martin, Nick Isaacson, and Carson Mackinnon have all been signed to one-year deals with the team, complementing a handful of new additions to the roster. 75% of the forwards signed to the roster are returning Icemen veterans, with only four of the 12 currently signed skaters being newcomers to the Icemen locker room. Three of those new four forwards are rookie skaters.
It wasn’t just the offensive group that got some revitalization in August, as the Icemen made adjustments to their defensive squad as well. On August 13th, the team announced a trade that brought d-man Ivan Chukarov down to Jacksonville from the Adirondack Thunder. In return, the Thunder received dibs to future considerations. Chukarov will join fellow new additions Jack Van Boekel and Chays Ruddy on the Icemen blueline this season. Jack Van Boekel, signed to a one-year deal on August 22nd, is a towering 6’7″ left-handed defenseman who has quite the history with the penalty box. His physical presence should provide the forward group plenty of space to work with on the ice. Van Boekel’s aggression should be complemented by the recent signing of Chays Ruddy. Ruddy, another left-handed defenseman, provides the Icemen with extra toughness with his physically dominant two-way game. Both signings add size and grit to an Icemen defense group that already maintains a good balance of secondary scoring and shutdown defense play.
Mackenzie Dwyer and Garret Cockerill were the two latest defenders to add their names to the list of players returning to the Icemen blueline next season. They join Jacob Panetta, Julian Kislin, Victor Hadfield, and Connor Russell in returning to Jacksonville for one more season. Like the offense, the defensive group is a good mash-up of new faces and returning Icemen vets. With the nine defensemen currently listed on the roster, 2/3rds of the defensive core are all names Icemen fans will be familiar with.
With new names moving on, old names are sure to be moving out. That much can be said for the Jacksonville Icemen, who will be without a few key pieces in the upcoming season. Impact players such as Ara Nazarian and Tim Theocharidis have found new homes overseas, playing in European tier-one leagues. Other notable pieces from last year’s roster have been signed to AHL contracts. There is still the possibility that players who have signed deals with the Rochester Americans in the AHL could still end up on the ice in Jacksonville, pending movement within the Sabres development pipeline. For now, here is a list of critical Icemen names from last season that have been signed to contracts elsewhere:
- Parker Gahagen – goalie – AHL Lehigh Valley Phantoms
- Brandon Fortunato – defenseman – AHL Rochester Americans
- Jacob Friend – defenseman – EIHL (United Kingdom) Belfast Giants
- Tim Theocharidis – defenseman – Hockey AllSvenskan (Sweden) Kalmar HC
- Christopher Brown – forward – AHL Rochester Americans
- Cristiano DiGiacinto – forward – AHL Hartford Wolfpack
- Ben Hawerchuk – forward – EIHL (United Kingdom) Fife Flyers
- Luke Lynch – forward – EIHL (United Kingdom) Glasgow Giants
- Ara Nazarian – forward – EIHL (United Kingdom) Belfast Giants
- Ben Tardif – forward – Liiga (Finland) KooKoo
In addition to those that have signed elsewhere, the Icemen lost veteran goaltender Charles Williams to retirement earlier in the offseason. It has since been announced that he will be joining the team in a joint front office/coaching role.
The Icemen still need to shore up the goaltending, as to date, there is only one goaltender currently signed with the team – Matt Vernon. With training camp quickly approaching, the Icemen will want to lock in a secondary goalie sooner rather than later, though the Sabres’ goalie development pipeline is rich with talent, and Jacksonville could possibly see a few goalies move in and out of the crease this season. The new roster signings on the offensive side of the puck should fill the gaps left by the departure of names like Nazarian, Brown, and Lynch. Holes on the defensive side of the puck, primarily when it comes to the physical aspects of the game, should be rendered mute with the additions of strongmen like Van Boekel and Ruddy. The Icemen have put together a good mix of veteran and rookie talent that, on paper, has the ability to be a cohesive, competitive hockey team. As training camp and the start of the season approaches, the picture of the roles everyone has been cast for should become clearer.