Jay Croop, one of the most popular Carolina Thunderbirds last season during their run to the Federal Prospects Hockey League championship, has been traded to the Columbus (Ga.) River Dragons.

The Thunderbirds receive forward Jiri Pargac and defensemen Dustin Henning and Ondrej Misovic in exchange for forwards Jiri Pestuka and Croop as well as defenseman Seth Gustin.

Henning was then traded to the Watertown Wolves for George Holt.

Croop, 26, said he had mixed feelings about the trade because of his love for the Thunderbirds’ fans and Winston-Salem. He was one of a core of players who joined the new franchise two seasons ago.

His outgoing personality and the community service he offered to Winston-Salem endeared him to the Flock, which is the nickname for the fan base.

The other side of the trade: Croop’s father, Jeff, is one of the owners of the River Dragons.

“I love everything about Winston-Salem, and it’s like choosing between two families,” Croop said. “I can’t thank them enough for treating me so well and all of us on last year’s team probably feel the same way. It was a like a dream come true to play in Winston and win the Commissioner’s Cup.”

Croop joked that when the River Dragons play at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex next year he won’t know if he’s getting booed or if the fans are simply yelling ‘Crooooooop.’

“I was talking with my dad about that the other day,” Croop said. “That’s kind of funny that I won’t know what they are saying.”

Jimmy Milliken, the general manger of the Thunderbirds, said he likes the direction the team is headed.

“This is a huge trade we made to get what we feel is one of the best players in the league back to Carolina in Jiri Pargac,” Milliken said about Pargac, who was taken by the River Dragons in the expansion draft.

Getting Pargac back will give the Thunderbirds plenty of pop on offense. Last season he had 21 goals and 41 assists in 42 games. The Thunderbirds outscored opponents by a 150 goals during the regular-season as they went 48-6.

Croop isn’t the only connection between the Thunderbirds and River Dragons, and he isn’t the only member of his family with a connection to hockey’s history in Winston-Salem.

Scott Brand, the former general manager of the Thunderbirds, is the president and general manager of the River Dragons. The team also has several players on the roster who played last season for the Thunderbirds.

Jeff Croop was the vice president of operations for the Winston-Salem Ice Hawks in the late 1990s. He and Artie Shaver, who was one of the majority owners of the Ice Hawks, are the majority owners of the River Dragons. Shaver also owns two restaurants in Winston-Salem.

Jay Croop, who has spent four seasons in the FPHL, played in 34 games for the Thunderbirds last season. He battled a knee injury during the middle of the season but recovered and was an important part of the team’s chase for the championship.

In his 34 games, Croop scored nine goals and had 13 assists.

While Croop is already working full-time in Columbus trying to find sponsors for the team, he is also staying in shape for fall camp. He hopes his knees hold up so he can possible play again.

“I’ll try to make the team, obviously,” Croop said. “It would be really cool to play for the team my dad owns.”

Croop said during the run to the Commissioner’s Cup title, he soaked in every moment because he thought it might be his last season.

“If I don’t play again, what a way to go out,” Croop said. “Like I said earlier, the run that we made together and how dominant we were was like a dream season.”

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jdell@wsjournal.com (336) 727-4081 @johndellWSJ

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