For local fans of professional ice hockey, a major announcement involving two very familiar names have stoked hopes of returning Hampton Roads to the “glory days” of the 1990s.
The Norfolk Admirals formally announced both a new owner and a new head coach with ties to the team that extend back to when minor league hockey was the hottest ticket in town and the team was a perennial powerhouse.
The Admirals’ new owner, entrepreneur and former player Patrick Cavanagh, introduced himself and his management group, then announced his former teammate Rod Taylor as his hand-picked new head coach for a throng of fans and sports media attending a press conference at the Chilled Ponds Sports Complex off Greenbrier Parkway in Chesapeake.
“Today we started building the ‘new’ Norfolk Admirals and began a new chapter of professional hockey in Hampton Roads,” Cavanagh said. “And as for our historic past, we’re excited to rekindle the excitement in the stands and recapture the success on the ice.”
Ownership brings Cavanagh’s 30-year connection to the team full circle. An “original Admiral,” he arrived in Hampton Roads as an 18-year-old rookie, brought to the region by the legendary head coach John Brophy in 1989. Cavanagh played through 1992.
He didn’t have to go far for his new coach. Since 2014, Taylor has been involved with the youth and junior hockey programs that call Chilled Ponds home, serving as head coach of the Hampton Roads Jr. Whalers, a USPHL Premier team.
“For me, this is a dream position,” Taylor said. “It’s a chance to give back to something that’s been such a big part of my life. I’m proud to share in the heritage of the Admirals’ logo and its history in this area.”
As a former player under the legendary John Brophy, Taylor said he appreciated the benefits that came with winning championships.
“Those lessons remain with me and will be part of my approach to coaching. We will demand the full commitment of our players and we’ll strive for excellence in the front office,” he said.
“We are committed to building a team culture that’s focused on upward development and continuous improvement. I look forward to returning the Norfolk Admirals back to where we belong: competitive in the ECHL year-in and year-out, always striving for the Kelly Cup Championship.”
Taylor played pro hockey for several teams over 15 seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL) and East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), playing in 528 games over nine seasons in an Admirals’ uniform while scoring 312 goals and amassing 565 points. Recognized for his blistering shooting skills, the left-winger known as “Rocket Rod” or simply, “Rocket,” was a fan favorite especially to the eclectic crowds who watched in Norfolk’s SCOPE; in the mid-2000s, he was elected to the Halls of Fame for both the Admirals and the ECHL.
Changes in the executive office and in the locker room aren’t the only changes in store for the 2019-20 Norfolk Admirals, according to Cavanagh, who laid out design renderings for new VIP and Corporate seating configurations at SCOPE, plans for extensive fan appreciation and engagements.
“We’re planning improvements and innovations that are designed to far surpass the fan experiences of the recent past,” Cavanagh said, pointing to such examples as “Game Suites,” an exclusive Season Ticket Holder entrance and a Hospitality Room for both pre- and post-game player and fan interaction opportunities.
Special themed game nights and food promotions are also on the drawing board, according to Cavanagh.
“What won’t change is our deeply engrained appreciation for and heartfelt connection to our Military community. That will be apparent at each and every game, and most especially during five exclusive Military Nights we’re planning.”
Against a backdrop of an amateur hockey practice session, Cavanagh mapped out his hopes to begin cultivating future players from a home-grown farm system at Chilled Ponds.
“The tremendous success of the Hampton Roads Whalers and Norfolk Admirals’ rich history and ties to this community can bring this about in the long term,” he said. “Beginning with our amateur roots and now reaching the professional level, our organization shares the same objectives: pursue championships and help players advance to their fullest capacity in the sport of hockey.”