History of Hockey in North Carolina: Fayetteville

Hockey in North Carolina has a long history in North Carolina. One city that is making its’ own mark on the hockey world in the state is Fayetteville. The city is quickly becoming a hotbed for hockey.

North Carolina has quickly become a hotbed for the greatest sport on ice. Youth and collegiate hockey is thriving. NC State is the defending ACCHL champion. The Charlotte Checkers and Winston-Salem Thunderbirds both are coming off championship seasons in the AHL and FPHL respectively. But another city that is enjoying success on the ice is that of Fayetteville.

Fayettville may not have the long hockey history like that of say Winston-Salem or Charlotte but they are proving to be a force in the hockey world. The city can trace the birth of hockey back to the same year that the Hartford Whalers started calling North Carolina their new home as the Carolina Hurricanes.

The first team to call Fayettville home was the Fayetteville Force of the Central Hockey League (CHL). The team entered the CHL in 1997 and was a finical success in their first couple of seasons. They drew an average of around 4,000 fans for home games during their first season.

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But after the honeymoon period with the fans wore off, the organization began to struggle financially. Owner, Bill Coffey sold the team after two years.

In January 2000 the Force hosted the CHL All Star game. And despite there being over 8 inches of snow on the ground at the time of the event, it managed to draw over 6,000 people into Crown Coliseum. Which is quite an impressive feat as anyone from North Carolina knows that the entire state shuts down at the sight of the smallest bit of snow.

Sadly in 2001 the Force became a thing of the past as the CHL merged with the Western Professional Hockey League (WPHL). With the relocation of nearby teams, it was no longer financially viable for the team to continue.

Over the course of their four seasons, the Force made the playoffs in their final two seasons and won the Adams Cup in the 1999-2000 season, which was the regular season title for the CHL.

Hockey would not return to the city until 2002 with the arrival of the Cape Fear Fire Antz. The Fire Antz played their inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Hockey League (ACHL). But only played one season in the league after some inner turmoil in league. The Fire Antz would form the South East Hockey League along with four other teams and would play the 2003-2004 season in the SEHL.

Following that season the SEHL merged with the World Hockey Association 2 (WHA2) to form the Southern Professional Hockey League. The team also changed their name to the Fayetteville Fire Antz for the 2004-2005 season onward.

For the large majority of their time, the Fire Antz were a consistent playoff team. The team made it all the way to the Presidents Cup finals twice. In the 2006-2007 season Fire Antz brought the first professional sports championship in 51 years to the city of Fayetteville by winning the Presidents Cup by defeating the Jacksonville Barracudas.

The 2012-2013 season saw the Fire Antz win the SPHL William B. Coffey trophy,the SPHL regular season title,  as well as head coach Mark DeSantis win the SPHL coach of the year.

In 2017, the FIre Antz found themselves under new ownership and management. With that came a name change. The team became the Fayetteville Marksmen. The name stems from the city’s’ close ties to Fort Bragg and the Carolina red fox.

Last month in October, the Marksmen were part of the first professional hockey game to be played on an active army base. They took on the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs inside Cleland Ice Center on Fort Bragg.  And at the time of the writing of this article, they sit at a 6-0-1 record and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Next: History of hockey in NC; Greensboro

Question for CC readers: What is your fondest memory of the Force, Fire Antz, or Marksmen?