The Greenville Swamp Rabbits are a professional ice hockey team located in Greenville, South Carolina. They play in the South Division of the ECHL's Eastern Conference and play their home games at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown Greenville. The franchise had previously played as the Johnstown Chiefs from the ECHL's inception in 1988 until the team's relocation in 2010 and subsequently as the Greenville Road Warriors until being re-branded as the Swamp Rabbits in 2015. The Swamp Rabbits are the second ECHL franchise to play in Greenville, as the city hosted the Greenville Grrrowl from 1998 until 2006. The team is currently affiliated with the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League and the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League.
Initially a midseason replacement team in the All-American Hockey League in the 1987–88 season, the Johnstown Chiefs were one of five franchises (including the Carolina Thunderbirds and the Virginia Lancers also of the AAHL) that founded the East Coast Hockey League in 1988. Johnstown's initial owners had wanted to name the team the Jets in reference of a previous franchise that had played in various leagues from 1950 until 1977. However, the original Johnstown Jets owners owned the name and refused to allow the ECHL franchise to use it. The owners of the ECHL franchise instead decided to name the team the Chiefs in reference to the Charlestown Chiefs from the ice hockey movie Slap Shot which was filmed in Johnstown.
The Chiefs played their home games at Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown for all 22 of their seasons in the ECHL. In the inaugural season of the team and the ECHL, Johnstown finished second in the regular season standings and were the runners-up in the inaugural Riley Cup finals, losing to the Winston-Salem Thunderbirds 4 games to 3. Although the Chiefs had played in the ECHL for 22 seasons, they had never won a division, conference, Brabham Cup or Riley/Kelly Cup title. Throughout Johnstown's history, the club had affiliation agreements with the Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Chiefs would flounder for several years as the owners of the team tried to find local ownership for the team, but failed. After losing a reported $100,000 per year and facing an expensive rent posted by the War Memorial Arena's new owners, the Chiefs started to listen to offers to relocate the team.
On February 13, 2010, the Tribune-Democrat reported that television reports from Greenville stated that the Chiefs would be relocated to Greenville following the 2009–10 season and compete at the BI-LO Center. Two days later the Tribune-Democrat confirmed previous reports that the Johnstown Chiefs would relocate to Greenville, pending approval by Greenville's arena board and the ECHL's board of governors. On February 15, 2010, the Greenville Arena District Board announced that they had agreed to a five-year deal to bring the Johnstown Chiefs to Greenville's Bi-Lo Center. The importance of the new Greenville team financially helped the two nearby teams in the ECHL that had lost a rival (Charlotte) to the AHL for the upcoming season; the Gwinnett Gladiators via Interstate 85, and the South Carolina Stingrays (Charleston) via Interstate 26 through Interstate 385. While Gwinnett is the closer rivalry, the Charleston rivalry is an in-state rivalry and the older, more established rivalry (ninth season versus sixth season). Cincinnati Cyclones assistant coach Dean Stork was named the franchise's first head coach on June 29, 2010.
The Greenville Road Warriors' inaugural season was very successful. Led by rookie head coach Dean Stork, the Road Warriors had a deep attack and boasted nine players with at least 40 points during the regular season. That offense combined with a defense that gave up the second-fewest goals in the league (192) paved the way to a 46-22-4 record, a South Division title, and the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the Kelly Cup Playoffs. The Road Warriors became just the second first-year team in the history of the ECHL to win a regular season conference crown.
The playoffs began with the top-seeded Road Warriors taking on the eighth-place Elmira Jackals. A split of the first two games in Elmira left the series tied and headed back to Greenville. After a 2–0 win in game three, it took just over 86 minutes to decide a winner in game four. Sean Berkstresser scored the winner off of a faceoff win by Chris McKelvie and propelled Greenville to the second round.
The Road Warriors took on the Wheeling Nailers in round two. Wheeling and Greenville split the first two games at the BI-LO Center with the Nailers claiming game one and the Road Warriors getting game two in overtime. The Nailers then went up 3–1 in the series with wins in games three and four in Wheeling. Greenville responded by winning game five 5–1 and game six 6–3 to force the decisive game seven at the BI-LO Center. Greenville never led during regulation, but Brendan Connolly scored the game tying goal with 23 seconds left in the third to force overtime. The Road Warriors comeback fell just shy of the desired outcome when Wheeling converted a 2-on-1 just over eight minutes into overtime and ended Greenville's season.
The Road Warriors' second season in the ECHL saw the team finish second in the South Division, fourth in the Eastern Conference, with a 41-25-6 record. Offense was the hallmark of this club as it posted the sixth-most goals (232, 3.22 per game). Justin Bowers finished third in the league with 78 points and was second with 59 assists while Brandon Wong (31, 6th) and Marc-Olivier Vallerand (30, 7th) finished in the top ten in the league in goals.
On the defensive side, rookie goalie, and New York Rangers prospect, Jason Missiaen was a stalwart for the Road Warriors. The 6–8 netminder set the high-water mark for the club with 40 appearances during the regular season which included a stretch where he started 18 of Greenville's 19 games from February 3 to March 10, 2012. Missiaen was 12-5-2 over that span and finished the season with 22 wins which were second most among rookie goalies in the league. His running mate in net for most of the season was Nic Riopel who returned for a second season in Greenville. The former Philadelphia Flyers draft pick went 14-9-2 to establish a club-high of 38 career victories.
In the playoffs Greenville took on the fifth-seeded Florida Everblades in a best-of-five Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. The Road Warriors were unable to overcome a Florida club that was playing its best hockey of the season and had won eight of its final 10 games of the regular season. Greenville lost the first two games in Florida by scores of 5–2 and 4–2 before returning home for game three. It turned out to be the final game of the season as Florida notched a 3–2 win and completed the sweep.
The 2012–13 season was one of many milestones for the Road Warriors, both individual and as a team. It began with head coach Dean Stork getting his 100th victory behind the Greenville bench on November 30, 2012. Captain T.J. Reynolds played in his 600th professional game on February 18. The opponent that game was the Wheeling Nailers, where Reynolds started his career back in 2002. The Road Warriors also saw a 9% rise in attendance over the previous season. On three different occasions, the team had record crowds larger than any from the previous two seasons. The attendance increase was never more evident than on March 2, when the team saw 7,529 fans pack the BI-LO Center. The first half of the season was a dogfight for first place between Gwinnett and Greenville. After a 4–1 win over Gwinnett the Road Warriors took sole possession of first place in the South Division heading into the All-Star break. However, after going 26-14-4 in the first half of the season the team struggled during the second half and went 10-13-4. Greenville fell to the bottom of the Eastern Conference and clinched the eighth playoff seed with 80 points in the regular season.
The Road Warriors opponent in the best-of-seven series, the Reading Royals, collected 99 points for the first seed in the Eastern Conference. Greenville's offensive struggles, combined with a hot goaltender, found them shutout in games one and two. Back on home ice, Greenville was able to find the back of the net in game three which led to a 4–2 victory. Unfortunately for the Road Warriors, the scoring touch was lost over the next two games and Reading collected two more shutouts in games four and five to win the series 4–1. Reading would go on to win the Kelly Cup, making 2012–13 the second straight season the Road Warriors would be eliminated by the eventual league champions.
The 2013–14 season saw the Road Warriors reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in their four-year history. The beginning of the season got off to the worst start in team history. Aside from the first few weeks of the season, the team did not peak over a .500 winning percentage until the second weekend in January. The tide changed with a three-game weekend sweep of the Evansville IceMen and the Road Warriors and from February 8 through March 28 the Road Warriors earned a 16-4-0 record, putting them in playoff contention. This push helped the team clinch the 6th playoff seed with a 39-27-2-4 record and fourth consecutive playoff appearance under Dean Stork.
The Road Warriors drew the Kalamazoo Wings in the first round of the playoffs. The series began with the teams splitting games and was evened at two games apiece to set up a crucial game five. On April 26, the Road Warriors played the longest game to date in a three overtime battle against the Wings. Kyle Jean potted the winner in a game that lasted 4 hours and 21 minutes. The Road Warriors won game six to move on to the second round for the first time in two years. The Wheeling Nailers were the next opponent in the 2014 Kelly Cup playoffs. The Road Warriors began the series winning two games on the road. The Nailers battled back to even the series setting up a vital game five. While in front of home fans, the Road Warriors won that game by a score of 4–1 and three nights later, shutout the Nailers 4–0 in game six to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cincinnati Cyclones. The Conference Finals would be the final round the Road Warriors would see in the tremendous turnaround of a season. Much like the past two series, the Road Warriors entered game five with the series knotted at two games apiece. The Cyclones won games five and six to end the Road Warriors hopes at a championship.
On August 26, 2015, the team announced that it had officially rebranded itself as the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. The team was renamed to the Swamp Rabbits to strengthen the team's ties to Greenville. The name Swamp Rabbits was a local name of the Greenville and Northern Railway that began operations in 1920. In 2005 the railroad was abandoned and was converted to the Swamp Rabbit Trail. The first season of the Swamp Rabbits was 29-33-9-1.