Center J.P. O'Connor said strong chemistry was one of the keys behind the Chesapeake Icebreakers' late-season run that took the team to the Northern Conference semifinals. Put simply, the players really liked each other and enjoyed playing together.

They will get the chance to play together again--only it won't be in Upper Marlboro. The East Coast Hockey League team was purchased by a group from Jackson, Miss., and will move there to begin play this fall.

The franchise lost defenseman Tony McAauley in the recent expansion draft, but all the other players can come to Jackson, and O'Connor said the team's closeness will be a plus as it adjusts to its new Southern home.

"That will help enormously," O'Connor said. "You don't have to worry about the enormously difficult task of creating chemistry."

Chesapeake assistant coach Nelson Burton, who elected not to go with the team to Mississippi, agreed the team's chemistry helped last year and could be a big strong point in Jackson. Burton said he's sorry to see the team leave, but he's glad the group can remain as one.

"I'm just glad that they're still together," Burton said. "They're really a great bunch of guys. Mike Mudd did a great job of building the team, and [Coach] Chris Nilan did a great job of coaching it, and it'd be a shame to separate them at this time."

The partnership at the top, however, has fractured. Mudd, the former Icebreakers' general manager and director of hockey operations, accepted a job last month as assistant GM with the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the International Hockey League. Nilan also elected not to go with the team, interviewing recently for other ECHL positions after taking the Icebreakers to the playoffs in both seasons here.

Burton also said the team's style of play could help it in the Southern Conference, where most franchises favor a fast-paced style. Nilan and Burton installed a more defensive, counterattacking style that should serve it well in Jackson.

The team's former home--Show Place Arena--has lined up several new events to take the Icebreakers' place, including a basketball team in the proposed National Rookie League. Show Place Arena General Manager Bill Chambers said they've replaced most of the dates the Icebreakers would have used.

Former team owner Michael A. Caggiano had said recently he wanted to keep the players together since they had done so well.

"I'm pleased that we'll at least be able to do that much for them," Caggiano said.

Caggiano had been granted an approval to suspend operations here this season, but the new ownership group elected to start play this season in Jackson.