The 2017-18 Southern Professional Hockey season has been over for some time, with the Huntsville Havoc raising the President’s Cup.
Since that time, the league has added Quad City from the ECHL, but lost long-time franchise Mississippi.
Long before this season’s end and any of its offseason antics, one incredibly dedicated fan of the league and the Roanoke Railyard Dawgs, Alex Gerwitz, created an entirely custom SPHL in the video game NHL 18.
Gerwitz, who spent the first 27 years of his life in American Hockey League country as a Rochester Americans fan, moved to Roanoke to be closer to family in 2016.
Luckily for this lifelong hockey fan, he moved right into the Northeast tip of the SPHL, and quickly became a fan of the Railyard Dawgs.
“I can see the difference in play going two levels down, but there’s a lot of passion from the players, maybe more so, in the lowest levels,” said Gerwitz “I’d compare the quality of SPHL play to [NCAA] D-1 hockey, and no one complains about that being ‘unwatchable’.“
After becoming acquainted and a regular of both Railyard Dawgs games and the SPHL, Gerwitz decided to pursue a new venture never before achieved at this level for the league: get it into the ever-popular video game NHL ’18.
“I used to be very active in the mod community for the PC NHL games. I’ve graduated to the current consoles, but I still have that ‘streak’ in me. I loved being able to play the season as my local team in Rochester since NHL 08, but now I had a new team where I couldn’t,” said Gerwitz “I can’t do anything halfway so what started with one team (Roanoke) blossomed into 12. A lot of SPHL call-ups were already being created by EA in the updates, so that lessened my largest workload of the rosters.”
No stranger to this pursuit, Gerwitz understood the patience and dedication it took to make it look and feel legitimate.
“I started in late September, soon after the game came out, and I put it online in February, shortly after finishing. So, at least four months of on-and-off work. A few really dedicated weeks in January were spent on rosters.”
Months of dedicated work, and his league looks outstanding. Fully custom arenas, teams, players, logos, franchises, coaching staffs, and uniforms.
To create a proper league, Gerwitz had to expand the league to 12 teams. For him, this meant bringing back two defunct franchises: the Columbus Cottonmouths and Louisiana Icegators.
“The two alumni teams of Columbus and Louisiana rightfully dominate and always finish top-three in sims. Even when fully simulating, the game usually liked the Dawgs and [Fayetteville] Marksmen to finish high, and the eventual champion [Huntsville] Havoc usually missed the playoffs. Clearly my ratings need work!”
After the addition and subtraction of teams this offseason, what’s to come for the Gerwitz SPHL?
“My initial thought is to just make the [River]Kings an alumni team next year, and replace Louisiana with Quad City. I’ll have to largely redo the rosters anyway for the new season. I also thought about doing two FHL teams to fill in the extra slots, but that’s a league I know very little about, so that’d be tough.”
Perhaps that could finally be the jump to the SPHL that Carolina Thunderbirds’ fans have been awaiting.
While he’d love to see the SPHL someday really he in NHL games in the future, he admits he doesn’t see it realistic – yet.
“I wasn’t expecting the ECHL two years ago, so I won’t say “never”. But each additional league is a time drain to maintain, and while the E could be relevant to Franchise mode soon, the SPHL is a long way off,” said Gerwitz “Maybe in a more distant future where ‘A’ level hockey is consolidated under one umbrella as we’ve seen from the AHL-IHL and ECHL-CHL-UHL, it would make sense.”
Time will tell what’s to come for the SPHL and its future fit in hockey, but for now, until the day it’s in EA’s NHL franchise, we appreciate and enjoy dedicated like that of Alex Gerwitz to bring some Mason-Dixon Hockey to the Show.