Jimmy Milliken arrived in Winston-Salem about three weeks ago after being named the Carolina Thunderbirds president and general manager.
He hit the ground sprinting as he got acclimated to a fan base that keeps growing thanks to the team’s success this season. Carolina won the Federal Hockey League’s championship this season as it dominated the regular season and the playoffs.
This isn’t the first time Milliken, 42, from Darlington, S.C., has found work in Winston-Salem. He was here during the days of the Twin City Cyclones.
One challenge for Milliken is putting together another team that has a good chance to win the FHL title. He answered some questions about the coming season and what to expect when the season begins in October.
Q: What is your biggest challenge in taking over a team that is coming off a championship in the Federal Hockey League?
Answer: The biggest thing is to keep this momentum going. It’s always tough to get there, but it’s even harder to stay there. The team had a dream season last year. That year may never be duplicated again, but we are definitely going to try.
Q: You have already reached out to the fan base of the Thunderbirds, but what have you noticed about the fan support so far?
Answer: The fan support here is great. The fans are all about the Thunderbirds. They bleed red, black and white. My first real experience of it when I was at a local store, and I had my Thunderbirds’ hat on when a lady walked by and said “What’s The Word?” And right there I knew that this is a hockey town.
Q: The schedule is not out yet but do you anticipate having a big opening night to celebrate last season’s title?
Answer: Yes, we are planning a big party for opening night. We will have a lot of fun stuff happening that night to celebrate the championship.
Q: Will there be a new banner put up at the Annex to recognize the championship?
Answer: Yes, for sure because this was the first championship in 30 years. You better believe there will be a banner up to honor that team.
Q: We know that Michael Bunn has committed to play for the Thunderbirds, but how is the rest of the roster shaping up?
Answer: It’s early in the process with the season just getting over. Players are weighing their options for next season. But we have had very positive reaction to players wanting to come back and new players wanting to come play for the defending champs. As I said before, we will have a great team on the ice to compete for a back to back championship.
Q: There’s been a lot of talk about more teams in the FHL, so how many teams will be in the league for this upcoming season?
Answer: Right now, there are nine. We may have another interested to make it 10. That’s still in negotiations, but honestly, I don’t care how many teams are in the league. I’m worried about the Carolina Thunderbirds and making them the best in the league again.
Q: And finally, what do you hope to see for improvements at the Annex for this coming season?
Answer: I wasn’t here last year, so I don’t know what was lacking. I know I would love to see a new scoreboard in the Annex to make an even better hockey experience for the fans. Maybe an upgrade of the WiFi system. I want to upgrade anything that makes a night at a Thunderbirds game the best it can be.