Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Here Come the Bugs

As the closest thing we experience to an autumn chill tries uneasily to settle in over north Louisiana, we can realize in amazement that Our Little Hockey Team is still here, alive and crawfishin’. The Mudbugs apparently have stood the test of time and continue to amaze and amuse us. How can it be that minor league hockey has been a success in hunting and fishing country?
Can it be the team’s owner, a walking talking caricature who appears at games in a big, silly cowboy hat wearing a giant shiny belt buckle with his blue jeans? John Madden carries the same name as a famous football coach turned broadcaster, and seems to have a similar level of enthusiasm for his adopted game. His loves his Mudbugs and tirelessly promotes the team. When he bought the team from high-strung New Mexico chiropractor Michael Plaman, he kept key people in place and made a successful effort to establish affinity with his fan base. He also has run the team like the business it is, all the while perpetuating his own image as a good ol’ fella who wears his hat and goes mud-ridin’. It works, too. I’m certain he’s sincere in that way. The fans who like that sort of thing seem to identify with him while those who observe his sartorial shenanigans with skepticism easily can appreciate the show he offers when he makes his rounds through the stands during games. It’s not about spotlights and antics, but more about being highly visible and creating a sense of connectedness between the fans, the team and its owner.
Certainly, the fact that the team wins a lot of hockey games helps. They routinely make it into the Central Hockey league playoffs, and most recently have made it into the championship series twice. The fact that have been tantalizingly close to winning the championship only to fall agonizingly short seems to work in their favor. It’s almost like there is a script writer crafting cliffhangers. The fans keep coming back to find out what happens next.
The local hero has to be the Bugs’ fiery coach, Scott Muscutt. He has been with the team since its inception. He was one of the most recognizable players on the team before taking over as head coach. He met and married a local woman and is raising a family here. Madden was smart enough to know he’s got it good with his coach, and he has made no change there. Muscutt is easy to like, and the fans adore him not only because he wins but also because his passion for what he does shows through at every moment. He’s also developed into quite the public relations man, understanding how important it is to connect with the community and keep things clean and above board with the players he hires.
During the off-season, the team experienced perhaps the most dramatic turnover in player personnel it has seen since it was formed. This year may be Muscutt’s biggest challenge so far and his toughest test as a coach and the face man for the franchise. History and experience tell us he is up to the challenge. If he can’t mold a consistent winner out of his current crew, the fan base may become disenchanted. However, there’s enough good faith built up by management and ownership that a rough patch on the ice should not be much of an obstacle.
The key to continued success is to maintain and grow interest. Shreveport-Bossier has a long history of developing complacency over time, and that may be one of Madden and Muscutt’s biggest fears: that the cities have begun to take the Bugs for granted. They’re still here and certainly they have earned our attention.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: