In a game played on Ash Wednesday, five bloody brawls broke out. For each, the crowd leaped to its feet, screaming delightedly. Little boys pressed their faces against the glass, and a mother holding her tiny daughter jostled for position with a security guard.
No IceGators player is more beloved than good-natured pugilist Rob McCaig, who amassed 512 penalty minutes in 58 games this season, and whose nickname, Ribs, identifies the part of an opponent's anatomy that he prefers to pummel. McCaig, who grew up in Alberta, says he and some teammates might stick around when the season ends. "Shoot, if the boys don't have fun in Lafayette, I don't know where they'll have fun," says McCaig, 24. "You've got the swamps and the hunting, and the people are crazy."
Indications are that IceGators euphoria will continue. The team is on its way to tripling this year's season-ticket base of 1,600, and the possible addition of an ECHL team in Baton Rouge next season could spawn a rich rivalry. On sunny days dozens of youngsters play roller hockey in regional youth leagues and in the Cajundome parking lot. Since September the arena has been opening its doors to recreational ice skaters, and the daily sessions are nearly always full.
Among hockey devotees, one often hears the lighthearted contention that Canadians carry a passion for the sport in their genes. Now consider the fact that Lafayette's Cajuns descend from Acadians who were shipped south from Nova Scotia in the late 1700s. Could it be that the hockey gene, latent for 200 years, has now expressed itself among the transplanted Acadians? "I don't know if that's it or not," says McCaig. "But there's no doubt these people have something in their blood."