By: Ryan Kelly, Fletcher Keel | WCTV Eyewitness News
August 3, 2018
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The Tallahassee Tiger Sharks of the minor-league hockey league, the ECHL, swam the waters of the Donald L. Tucker Center from 1994-2001.
The Tiger Sharks came to Tallahassee after residing in a host of prior cities; the franchise began in 1981 as the Nashville South Stars before moving to Vinton, Virginia (1983-1990), Roanoke, Virginia (1900-1993) and Huntsville, Alabama (1993-1994).
While being far from a start up franchise, the Tiger Sharks flourished in their first season in Tallahassee. The Tiger Sharks went 36-25-7, racking up 79 points and finishing second in the ECHL's West Division, behind only South Carolina (who won 42 games and tallied 91 points, the third-most in the league).
Tallahassee won their first round playoff matchup against Hampton Roads and their quarterfinal matchup against Birmingham (winning both best-of-five series 3-1) before falling in five games to eventual league champion Richmond.
Fans in the Big Bend were treated to two 40-plus goal scorers in future ECHL Hall of Famer Darren Schwartz (47) and Don Parsons (41), whose goal total was part of four-straight 40+ goal seasons.
The Tiger Sharks improved their win total the following season, turning in a 42-22-6 record and accumulating 90 points, finishing tied with Nashville.
Tallahassee again found post season success, defeating Raleigh and Wheeling three-games-to-one before getting blanked by Charlotte (who, again, went on to win the Kelly Cup) in the semifinals.
While the Tiger Sharks, as a team, posted better numbers, the fire power of the previous year didn't quite carry over. Schwartz again led the team in goals, netting 39 in 60 of the team's 70 games. Cal Ingraham proved to be the lone other 30-plus goal scorer for Tallahassee, turning in 32, while leading the team with 71 points.
The final playoff appearance for the Tiger Sharks while in Tallahassee came in the following year. Tallahassee captured the South Division title, going 39-23-8 (good for 86 points), but were bounced in the first round by Pensacola (who lost to South Carolina in the semifinals who, you guessed it, went on to win the Kelly Cup).
Ingraham again led the offensive attack for the Tiger Sharks, totaling 92 points (34 goals, 58 assists). Three other Tiger Sharks - Dan Lupo (28), Matt Johnson (25) and Jed Fiebelkorn (21) - finished with 20 or more goals.
Starting in the 1997-98 season, and for the rest of their tenure in Tallahassee, the Tiger Sharks failed to qualify for the playoffs, finishing in last the division (32-32-7) followed by consecutive second-to-last finishes (27-34-9 in 1998-99, 31-33-6 in 1999-2000).
The Tiger Sharks would have been playoff bound in their final year in Tallahassee in 2000-01, finishing with a 38-21-1 record, but a 15-point penalty for salary cap violations knocked them from 83 points to 68 points, forcing them to miss the playoffs.
In June of 2001, the franchise moved to Macon, Georgia, becoming the Macon Whoope for the 2001-2002 campaign.
The Whoope lasted just one season before moving to Lexington, Kentucky for one year.
After taking the 2004-2005 season off (the Lexington franchise suspended operations), the franchised moved to West Valley City, Utah, to become the Utah Grizzlies, a team that still competes in the ECHL today.
Since their inaugural campaign in 2005-2006, the Grizzlies have made the playoffs 11 times (most recently, the 2016-17 campaign) and have made it to the conference finals once, in 2008, but have never competed for a Kelly Cup.
This past season, the Grizzlies turned in a record of 28-29-9-6 for 71 points, finishing sixth of seven teams in the division.
Notable names who spent time in Tallahassee include Manon Rheaume, a female goaltender who played one period for the Tiger Sharks in their first season in the Big Bend; Michael Ryder, who played five games in Tallahassee in 2000-01 on his way to a stable NHL career which has seen three 30-plus goal campaigns and a Stanley Cup (2011, Boston) and Mark Streit, who has totaled 96 goals in 786 career games and a Stanley Cup (2017, Pittsburgh).