Fayettevilles minor league hockey team has a new name

Owners Chuck Norris and Jeff Longo, who bought the SPHL team last month, announced at a public ceremony Friday that the team formerly known as the FireAntz will now be called the Fayetteville Marksmen

Fayetteville’s minor league hockey team got new owners last month. Friday, the Southern Professional Hockey League team got a new name. Charlotte businessman Chuck Norris and partner Jeff Longo announced at a public ceremony that the team formerly known as the FireAntz will now be called the Fayetteville Marksmen. “There is no other community anywhere that could represent a badass name like the Fayetteville Marksman,” Norris proclaimed in announcing the name change at at the team’s home, the Crown Coliseum. According to Longo, a former college goalie who previously worked in the front office of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and the American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers, the Checkers’ marketing department played a role in coming up with the team’s new name. They settled on Marksmen as a way of paying tribute to the soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Bragg, which is appropriate considering that Norris served as an Army private at the base from 1989-93 and often attended FireAntz games with his family. “I learned to love this city after I got out of the military and stayed here. This is home to me,” Norris said. “I’m honored and privileged to give a home to this team and try to bring hockey back to where it used to be when we first got here.” The FireAntz were founded in 2002 and were a charter member of the SPHL when it came into existence two years later. The team was annually among the league leaders in attendance and still holds eight of the nine largest single-game crowds in SPHL history — including a record 9,446 on Nov. 16, 2007 for a game against the Twin City (Winston-Salem) Cyclones. The previous season, the Fire Antz won their first and only SPHL championship. Interest in the team has dwindled in recent years, however, and attendance has dropped off considerably. Last season, despite finishing second overall in the regular season and earning home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the FireAntz finished last in the league with an average of just 1,617 fans per game. Norris and Longo bought the team on April 6 from a group of seven owners, led by Fayetteville furniture store owner Howard Bullard and long-time general manager Kevin MacNaught. Bullard, the only member of the group present at Friday’s announcement, said that the former owners had lost the “effort and energy” to run the team properly and decided the franchise “needed somebody who will do it the right way.” While praising Bullard and his partners for keeping hockey going in Fayetteville for 15 years, Longo promised that the Marksmen will take a fresh approach in marketing the team and entertaining fans above and beyond the action on the ice. He said that the team will unveil its new jersey design, mascot, community outreach programs and season ticket events within the next few weeks.”Part of what we’re trying to do here is to make this a sports entertainment experience,” Longo said. “We know how many hockey fans there are in Fayetteville. Our mission is to get people into the building for every reason other than hockey. Then the hockey speaks for itself.””We want to improve our show,” Norris added. “This is supposed to be an event. It’s not going to be the same old stuff every week. It’s going to change, it’s going to be fresh, it’s going to be fun. In a couple of years time, I think everybody is going to be proud of what they see here.”