When the Chesapeake Icebreakers moved to Jackson, Miss., last summer, the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro suddenly had 35 open dates on its calendar, and not much time to fill them.
But now, in the middle of a winter that would have been full of Icebreakers games, Show Place is hardly in a deep freeze. The arena has filled nearly all the dates previously reserved for the team, General Manager Bill Chambers said, and he is searching for a familiar kind of tenant: another minor league hockey team.
The six-year-old, 5,500-seat arena in Upper Marlboro has replaced hockey this winter with non-sporting events involving the circus, music, computers and consumer activities. And the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference will play its basketball finals there on Feb. 26 and 27.
Things are much better for Show Place than they appeared when the Icebreakers' departure became final last June. Team owner Michael A. Caggiano had asked the East Coast Hockey League for a one-year suspension, and received it, but then sold the club to a group that moved it to Mississippi.
"We weren't sure what would happen," Chambers said. "They still could have tried to come back here and play this year."
Chambers said the arena and the team had a 10-year contract. However, both sides could exercise an escape clause after each season. Chambers said he was disappointed the team did not succeed.
"I was proud that we were able to get a franchise," Chambers said, "but I was disappointed with the attendance, and the overall marketing of the product in the Washington area."
The team never had all its games broadcast on radio. In the first year, Icebreakers road games were on radio; last year, no games were. Chambers said he felt that was one reason the franchise failed.
But Chambers still said there is no reason a minor league hockey team cannot succeed at Show Place. The Bowie Baysox play about 10 miles away and have become one of the Eastern League's strongest and best-drawing baseball teams. There has been similar success in Salisbury and Frederick.
"The demographics are the same," Chambers said. Having the Icebreakers was "an experience that we learned a lot from. I'd enjoy it if the experience would re-invent itself."
Former Icebreakers general manager Michael Mudd said last summer that he also believes a hockey team could work here.
"I'd love to see a team here for the loyal fans that we had in Southern Maryland," Mudd said. "I think they desire to have another franchise."
In the meantime, Chambers is making a pitch for next year's Southern Maryland Athletic Conference high school basketball tournament and for St. Mary's College basketball games.
He also said he is trying to get a team in the Arena Soccer League, which has shown interest in putting one of its indoor soccer franchises in Upper Marlboro. One of the first items Chambers would have to obtain if a soccer team signed on are hockey boards--the ones the Icebreakers used were sold at the end of last season.
CAPTION: After the Chesapeake Icebreakers left, Show Place Arena General Manager Bill Chambers had to fill 35 open dates in a hurry. He compensated for most of the openings by organizing a variety of non-sporting events.