Dale Mitchell, Scott Langdon and Dylan King were just hoping to make it to the end of the ECHL regular season with the San Francisco Bulls.
Greenville Road Warriors vs. South Carolina Stingrays
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: North Charleston Coliseum
Records: Road Warriors 21-18-5 (47 points); Stingrays 29-10-3 (61 points)
It didn't turn out that way - the Bulls' ownership folded the team last week, But the season isn't over for the three hockey players.
Mitchell, Langdon and King have signed with the South Carolina Stingrays and are expected to be in the lineup Friday night when the Stingrays face the Greenville Road Warriors at the North Charleston Coliseum.
"It's been a whirlwind the last couple of weeks with everything that has happened," said Mitchell, who made the 40-hour cross-country drive from San Francisco to Charleston. "At this point, after everything that has happened, I'm just grateful that I'm going to be able to play and finish out the season."
Rumors had been swirling since the beginning of the season that the Bulls were in trouble. Two of the Bulls minority owners pulled their financial support from the team.
The historic Cow Palace, formerly the home of the NBA's Golden State Warriors, averaged less than 2,300 fans for Bulls' games in an arena that could handle more than 11,000 for hockey.
"You could kind of see the writing on the wall," Langdon said. "There was a really loyal group of fans we had, but we were having a tough time getting fans into the building."
By the middle of December, Mitchell said the team stopped paying the players. For two weeks no one got a paycheck and the players refused to practice.
"Up until that point, I thought we'd still be able to finish out the season," Mitchell said. "They had trouble paying our per diem when we went on the road, but when we didn't get paid for those couple of weeks I think everyone realized the situation was worse than we thought."
By the end of January, Mitchell and Langdon were getting calls from players around the league.
"They kept hearing that we were going under," Mitchell said. "When those rumors started, you kind of knew that we were probably getting close."
San Francisco head coach Pat Curcio called a team meeting on Jan. 27 to tell the players the bad news.
"That was a tough meeting," Mitchell said. "We wanted everything to work out. San Francisco is such a great city. We were a team, we had good group of guys in the locker room. It's like one minute we're a team and the next everyone is scrambling for a spot on another team."
All of the players became unrestricted free agents when the team ceased operations. Mitchell's cell phone blew up with calls from coaches in the ECHL and the Central Hockey League. Former teammates from junior hockey called trying to lure the former Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick to their teams.
Stingrays head coach Spencer Carbery knew it was going to be a feeding frenzy. He called and made his sales pitch to Mitchell, Langdon and King. He also received help from Stingrays players.
Mitchell had played junior hockey with Stingrays forward Igor Gongalsky. Mitchell trained in the off-season with Stingrays defenseman Jeremy Price and forward Lindsay Sparks.
Mitchell wanted to go to a team that was going to make the playoffs. He said the Stingrays, who have the best record in the ECHL, were the obvious choice.
"I knew Jeremy and Lindsay and they had only great things to say about the organization," Mitchell said. "They've got a great tradition here and in the end, it was a pretty easy decision to come here."
Langdon and Mitchell followed their teammate to South Carolina.
"I think Dylan and I were leaning toward coming here, and Dale coming here kind of pushed us over the top," Langdon said.
Langdon has played in more than 220 ECHL games and spent some time at Reading, allowing him to become familiar with the Stingrays.
"I actually played against Spencer early in my career and I knew what kind of franchise they had here," Langdon said.
Mitchell was one of the Bulls' top scorers with 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 25 games.
"Dale is a dynamic player at this level," Carbery said. "Langdon and King are shutdown-type defensemen that other teams will hate to play against. I feel like we got three of their top four players, and that'll only help us as the season goes on."
Former San Francisco Bulls forward Dale Mitchell (17) has signed with the South Carolina Stingrays after the Bulls franchise ceased operations. (Photo provided by San Francisco Bulls).×
Former San Francisco Bulls defense Scott Langdon has signed with the South Carolina Stingrays after the Bulls franchise ceased operations. (Photo provided by San Francisco Bulls).×
Former San Francisco Bulls defense Dylan King (47) has signed with the South Carolina Stingrays after the Bulls franchise ceased operations. (Photo provided by San Francisco Bulls).×