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 Jacksonville Icemen

Boldly Jacksonville: Remembering Jacksonville's First Hockey Championship

February 15, 2024 - ECHL (ECHL)
Jacksonville Icemen News Release

The Boldly Jacksonville series presented by Swisher, has featured the rich history of Jacksonville Hockey. A history that shares the stories of several popular franchises, big games, unique logos and well-known names of the game. The Jacksonville Barracudas entertained the First Coast from 2002 to 2008, and orchestrated several deep playoff runs resulting in three appearances in the finals and an WHA2 Championship in 2004.

The WHA2 was founded by David Waronker who also owned or co-owned all of the teams in the league. In addition, to the Barracudas, the league also featured the Orlando Seals, Macon Trax, Miami Manatees, Lakeland Loggerheads and Alabama Slammers.

The 2003-2004 Barracudas season was the team's first and only season of competition in the World Hockey Association 2 (WHA2). However, the team made it a special one, posting a 40-18-0-1 regular season record and capturing the league's championship.

Brett Strot, who served as both a player and an assistant coach for the Barracudas during the 2003-04 season, recalls what made this team so special.

"It was a great group of guys," said Strot. "It was a fun group to be around, we had a good room of players who skated hard and were easy to coach. Ron (Duguay) wanted to play and coach a skillful game along with speed, and we had that with this group which helped us in our success all season."

Ron Duguay coached the Barracudas for three full seasons and part of another from 2002-2006. He joined the team following a productive playing career which saw him take part in 860 career NHL games posting 620 career points (274g, 346a) in stints with the New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings.

"Rob played in the NHL, he had the long hair, which reminds you of the old Slapshot days, but he was a super human being who cared about his players," said Strot. "He was always full of energy, and I personally owe a lot to him both as a player and an assistant during my time with the Barracudas."

While the Barracudas were well coached and well prepared, Strot pointed out that Jamie Miller and Klage Kaebel were just a couple of players who consistently produced night in and night out. Miller led the team with 73 points and a team best 32 goals, while Kaebel finished second on the team in scoring (67 points) and in goals with 31.

After the 40-win regular season, the Barracudas defeated the Miami Manatees two games to one, and then went on to defeat the Macon Trax in the finals 2-0 to secure Jacksonville's only hockey championship to date.

The Barracudas won the WHA2's only President's Cup championship as the league folded shortly thereafter due to a failed partnership with the parent league the WHA, which ultimately served a cease-and-desist to the WHA2, and the league ceased operations.

Strot continued to play and serve as an assistant coach for the Barracudas for two more seasons. Strot went on to become an Associate Coach for the 2017-18 United States Women's National Team (USWNT) that won a gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics. He coached under former NHL goaltender Robb Stauber who also played in a pair of games for the Barracudas during that 2003-2004 year. Strot is still involved with the USA Women's National Team and is current the owner of the Tampa Bay Juniors hockey program as well as Hockey International Developmental Testing & Training located at the Advent Health Center, an ice facility located in Wesley Chapel, a facility Strot helped design.

Following their title year, the Barracudas went on to play three more seasons in the Southern Professional Hockey League, and reached the league finals two times, but were unable to capture another title.

Despite a lot of interest in the team and rising attendance numbers, the management at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena were concerned the team's revenue was too low to justify the cost of facilitating the arena for ice hockey. The arena raised the team's annual lease, and the team was forced to find a new home for games at the Jacksonville Ice Rink off of Emerson and Philips Highway.

Despite the new venue, the team reached the finals again, this time falling to the Knoxville Ice Bears. The smaller venue proved to be inadequate for the team to financially stay afloat and the team suspended operations following the 2007-08 season.

Even today, the success of the Barracudas is still talked about among hockey fans in the Jacksonville area. The 2003-2004 Barracudas gave the city a taste of championship hockey, which has left a lot fans chomping at the bit for another title in the Bold City.

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