Written by Darcy Waskiewicz, Sports Editor
Hockey fans in the South are rare. But those fans know just how special hockey can be and crave more than just watching the game on a screen. This is where the Greenville Swamp Rabbits come into play.
The Swamp Rabbits give hockey fans in Greenville a chance to come together and cheer for one united team playing the sport they love. And this season, with a brand-new affiliation with the Carolina Hurricanes, the Swamp Rabbits are celebrating their 10th anniversary as the team who can continue to help with the growth of hockey in Greenville.
Hockey first came to Greenville in 1998, when the Greenville Grrrowl formed as a member of the ECHL, known as the East Coast Hockey League at the time. The team played in Greenville as a minor league affiliate to both the Chicago Blackhawks and the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League (NHL). The Grrrowl had success in their early years in Greenville, and won the Kelly Cup, the trophy awarded to the best team in the ECHL, in 2002, but folded in 2006 due to a lack of funds.
After five years, the void that the Grrrowl left for hockey fans in Greenville was filled again, when the Johnstown Chiefs relocated from Pennsylvania to Greenville in 2010 after losing funding. This new team became the Greenville Road Warriors, with an assist from the fans to decide the team name.
Still a member of the ECHL, the Road Warriors formed an affiliation with the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL before the beginning of the team’s first season. The Road Warriors saw success in their first four seasons as a team in Greenville. The team clicked and never failed to clinch a playoff spot, but always fell short when it mattered most and were never able to advance past the third round of the playoffs.
After a disappointing fifth season that saw the Road Warriors miss the playoffs for the first time since moving to Greenville, the team rebranded into the Greenville Swamp Rabbits as a way to honor and strengthen the team’s connection with the Greenville community.
The team has struggled in recent years, losing their affiliation with the Rangers in 2018 and missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. After a disappointing 2018-2019 season as an independent team in the ECHL, the Swamp Rabbits looked for a way to bring energy and success back into the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
This summer, the team may have found it. On June 26, the Swamp Rabbits proudly announced a new affiliation with the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL and the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, creating the Carolina Hockey Alliance.
Both the Hurricanes and Checkers had impressive and energetic 2018-19 seasons. The Hurricanes’ celebrations after every home win, dubbed the “Storm Surge”, brought joy to both fans and teammates, and brought the love of hockey back to Raleigh, North Carolina. Fueled by the excitement of the entire community, the Hurricanes steamrolled through the season to clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2009 and made it all the way to the third round before being defeated by the red-hot Boston Bruins.
The Checkers also motored through the regular season, and ended with a franchise-best season in the AHL and the highest regular-season record in the league. The team went on to dominate in the playoffs and finished with the Checker’s first ever Calder Cup win.
The Swamp Rabbits kick off the 2019-20 season on Oct. 12 in Jacksonville before coming home for their home-opener on Oct. 18. As the Swamp Rabbits enter their 10th season, the team looks to build off of the energy and connection that the new affiliation with the Carolina Hurricanes and Charlotte Checkers provides. Swamp Rabbits games give all hockey fans a chance to come out and enjoy the game they love, whether they watch hockey regularly or just share an appreciation for the game.