Madison Ice Muskies

Editor's note: Adam Hoge is a former Capital Times intern who served as broadcaster for the Madison Ice Muskies, who brought professional hockey back to Madison for the first time in nine years when they started operations this fall. Their stay was short; the franchise has suspended operations midway through its first season amid financial difficulty.

Unfortunately, the famous quote from Field of Dreams -- If you build it, they will come -- doesn't actually work in the real world.

The Madison Ice Muskies, a Single-A minor league hockey team that failed to finish its inaugural season, learned that the hard way.

I saw the red flags the first time I met Chicago Police Officer John Rudolph, co-owner and general manager of the Ice Muskies, who ended up abandoning his players, staff and head coach after launching a team in the All-American Hockey League in this fall. We met in a Vietnamese restaurant on Chicago's West Side in August for what I thought was a job interview. It turned out I already had the job.

Our meeting lasted about 45 minutes as we talked about options for broadcasting the Ice Muskies games on the radio in Madison. I wore a suit, brought tapes of my hockey play-by-play work and was excited about the possibility of getting my first broadcasting gig.

Very quickly, I realized he wasn't very concerned about my work. He was talking to me like he had hired me months earlier.

In my head, I was wondering how a guy could hire a broadcaster without listening to any of his work. Red flag No. 1.

That turned out to be the first of many red flags. It was ugly from the start. The following Monday we had a meeting in Madison with ESPN Radio. John never showed up and his father, Gene Rudolph, fellow Chicago police officer and co-owner of the Ice Muskies, showed up an hour late.

A few weeks later, the team held open tryouts at Hartmeyer Ice Arena in Madison. Five players showed up. Three of them were goalies.

The Rudolphs made only two other hires besides myself. They hired a former Wisconsin State Journal employee to run the marketing operations for the team. He never wanted his name associated with the team and he quit in early October before the season even started.

The only other hire they made was head coach Rod Davidson, who they never paid a dime, other than the occasional reiumbursement for expenses. The Rudolphs were lucky to have Davidson, but they never realized it. The coach was well known in the minor league hockey world and had an International Hockey League title in Indianapolis to show for it. Davidson used his connections to put together the entire team, which from day one was an impressive group of young hockey players.

In fact, the only thing the Ice Muskies had going for them was the product on the ice. Things were ugly behind the scenes, but when the puck was dropped, the fans were treated to a surprisingly competitive, upbeat and exciting hockey game. The team was one of the best in the AAHL from day one, but the franchise never had a chance with the Rudolphs running the show.

How are four people supposed to run a professional hockey team? Who was going to market the team? Who was going to sell tickets? Who was going to get the message out to the local media?

It didn't take long before my job as broadcaster quickly turned into my job as the Director of Media Relations, Director of Marketing, and the team's Webmaster. Needless to say, I wasn't getting paid extra for taking on four jobs at once. Check that -- I wasn't getting paid at all.

I wasn't the only one taking on more than I could handle. Coach Davidson was running around town looking for sponsorships whenever he wasn't running practice. Jennifer Allred, a Stoughton native, cooked meals, washed the players jerseys and almost singlehandedly ran the game day operations on a volunteer basis.

And the entire time we kept asking each other, Did the Rudolphs have any money?

John told me the team had a budget of $150,000 for the first season. After just a few games that drew a few hunded people at $8 a head, you didn't even need a calculator to realize they weren't going to bring in anywhere close to $150,000 in revenue.

Sure enough, the players didn't get paid, Coach Davidson didn't get paid and I didn't get paid. And what did John and Gene do when they were asked for their money? They ran and hid.

Once I asked for my money, John stopped returning my phone calls and he didn't respond to my e-mails.

It wasn't until I threatened to stop broadcasting the games when Gene finally cut me a check in November for everything they owed me. Of course, that check bounced.

A week later, a different check cleared. But that would be the last one I saw. I asked to get paid a few weeks later and once again John stopped returning my calls. This time, I never heard from him again.

The last game I worked was Friday, December 12 when John and Gene didn't even bother to show up for the game at the Oregon Community Sports Arena, presumably because they owed too many people money.

Since then, WKOW-TV reported that the Regent Apartments, where the team housed the players, issued an eviction notice after the rent went unpaid. The players had not been paid since early in the season and one player had even sold his car so he could support himself.

Meanwhile, the Rudolphs went into exile. With no plan, no money and no backbone, John and Gene Rudolph thought they could put a hockey team on the ice in Madison, snap their fingers and make money. Unfortunately, their reckless business plan left a lot of people lost in its wake.

Most of us will be just fine. I was smart enough not to give up my day job at 670 The Score in Chicago. Coach Davidson has a great life back in Ontario where he lives.

The real victims are the players and hockey fans in Madison. Some of the players were lucky enough to be from Wisconsin. Others traveled from Baltimore, Atlanta and even Canada and went home with nothing.

As for the fans, a small but loyal group was treated to a great team on the ice, only to have it ruined by the circus behind the scenes.

At the very least, the Rudolphs owe their players and fans an apology. Instead, they didn't even have the courtesy to officially announce that the team had ceased operations.

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