This past Friday, January 8th, would have been Elvis Presley’s 81st birthday.

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Last Saturday¬†night my wife Nicki and I celebrated the King’s birthday¬†a bit early with the Mississippi Riverkings¬†at the Landers Center for Elvis Night! We’re both big Elvis fans so we were looking forward to enjoying some hockey and¬†Elvis.

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We got some great seats center ice, but as we sat down we noticed that below us Elvis was already in the penalty box!

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Actually it was Elvis Tribute Artist Hal Hall waiting to go on the ice to sing the national anthem.

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During the intermissions between periods he posed for pics at the Riverkings table. Hate I didn’t bring my Elvis glasses or cape!

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I did wear my custom¬†Jor-Elvis Geeky Jersey, though. ūüėČ

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The Riverkings were wearing custom hockey jerseys, too. It’s tradition for them to wear Elvis themed sweaters to celebrate the King’s birthday. They¬†auctioned off the jerseys after the game to benefit the RiverKings ReachOut Fund at the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi. The auction raised $9,550!¬†We saw several fans wearing different ones from previous years, and I have to say that this year’s looked pretty sweet! I really dug the colors and choice of the Elvis photo used. Wouldn’t mind seeing a third team jersey using that slate blue/grey with gold, black and white. It worked.
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The Riverkings drew first blood against the Louisiana IceGators early in the first period when Linden Bahm took a Leo Thomas pass to make it 1-0 Kings!

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Shortly after, IceGator goalie¬†Adam Courchaine was¬†injured by¬†a shot to the jaw/face mask early in the first period. Courchaine hit the ice hard and we didn’t see any movement from him for at least a minute or more! Once the medical staff got him on a stretcher and were moving him off the ice the fans and players all cheered for him. Some players approached and¬†offered¬†well wishes as the downed goalie¬†passed center ice. I hadn’t seen anything that scary there since years ago when a player went headfirst into the boards at the Zamboni entrance side of the rink. I love seeing hard hits and slap-shots, but hate seeing anyone have to leave the ice injured. This can be a very dangerous sport and hockey players are a special breed!

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Going into the first intermission the Riverkings still had the lead at 1-0, but it unfortunately wouldn’t last.

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During the intermissions Riverkings mascot Riverthing was on hand to handle his game break duties like the Puck Toss

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…or Human Bowling.

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Thing had helpers, but was missing his absent buddy Sheldon the turtle who was let go this season.

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I don’t know why Sheldon was officially let go, but they also did drop the green from their color scheme and go back to the original black and gold of old with their new logo.¬†For long time fans like me, after 14 years of seeing Sheldon it was like¬†having a longtime friend move away, or a fun co-worker get laid off. Sucks…

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I had worked with the Memphis Riverkings on merchandise back in the late ’90s. When they were looking to change logos, the marketing guy at the time wanted to get rid of our favorite¬†furry mascot. It shocked me a bit since he was such a fan favorite and¬†anyTHING¬†with Riverthing on it always sold great- especially merchandise for kids. (I encountered a similar situation with a local radio station and them getting rid of a great selling lizard mascot.)

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Things change (no pun intended) and I didn’t have a hockey player in that fight.¬†The team had been at the Mid-South Coliseum¬†for eight seasons since it’s first season 1992 (original Riverkings head coach was Steve Carlson aka Steve Hanson/The Hanson Brothers in the movie¬†Slap Shot). The Coliseum had seen better days and the team desperately needed a change of address, and a shot in the arm.

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In 2000 the Memphis Riverkings moved south to the DeSoto Civic Center/DCC (later renamed the Landers Center) and revealed their new look. Nobody was sure of why they went with a turtle, but in time he grew on us. (There had been a Memphis Turtles baseball team in town back in 1909-11.)

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In 2007 they changed their name to the Mississippi Riverkings and tweaked the logo- which made it look cleaner and the turtle more aggressive. In 2011 the team went from the Central Hockey League/CHL to the Southern Professional Hockey League/SPHL.

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Thankfully for the fans they ended up keeping both mascots after moving to Mississippi from Memphis. I’m afraid looking at their website (and store) recently makes me think¬†Riverthing¬†just doesn’t get much love these days. Other than a few news mentions and a toon in the Kids’ Club section on the team’s site, and some plush Riverthings in the gift shop– like Sheldon, he’s kind¬†of¬†missing, too.

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I think some teams just don’t utilize their mascots or their likenesses very well when it comes to merchandising and promotions.¬†I love collecting mascot merch and have got several Riverthing, Sheldon, Grizz, Rocky, Gnash, and others in my collection.

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I’ve been lucky enough to run into them all in person at games and special events, but¬†Riverthing¬†and¬†Sheldon seemed to be the most accessible for fans. They seemed to always be present at charity events, local holiday parades, and schools.

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The two were the devilish¬†dynamic duo of the Landers Center and were all over the place causing mischief during the game on ice, in the stands, behind the bench, or while exuberantly greeting fans out in the halls or at the arena’s entrances.

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At one time Riverthing used to jump barrels while on skates during intermissions- that’s crazy!

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It was always fun to run into the hockey tag team and a highlight of the games for me when they’d come up, shake my hand, and pose for a pic.

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Makes my day, and I feel like a kid when I see mascots in person, but especially these two.

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I like the new logo and a return to the original team colors. I have even bought new team merch. That doesn’t mean I have to like all of the changes or miss the way things were.

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I know re-branding happens, teams relocate, team roster changes occur, staff (and mascots) come and go, and that at least we still have a mascot.

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I’m just going to miss seeing the two of them together at games. ūüôĀ

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Well, back to the game…it got ugly for the Riverkings after that first intermission and the Gators owned the next two periods.

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Louisiana rallied and scored 5 unanswered goals, while back-up goalie Brad Barone was able to stop all 24 shots the Kings sent his way. The IceGators went on to win the game 5-1.

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The Riverkings play on home ice again¬†at the Landers Center on Friday, January 15 to Pack the House for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

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Tickets for the 7:05 PM game against the Knoxville Ice Bears are discounted $5 anywhere in the building and are available at the Landers Center box office in Southaven or through Ticketmaster. $3 from each ticket will go to St. Jude.

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For more info:

Mississippi RiverKings
Landers Center
4560 Venture Drive (off I-55 and Church Rd.)
Southaven, MS 38671

Phone: (662) 342-1755

www.riverkings.com