BLOOMINGTON - Bloomington's professional hockey franchise finally may have the rivalry with Peoria it always wanted.

The Bloomington Blaze and Peoria Rivermen each have applied for membership in the Southern Professional Hockey League.

“It makes perfect sense with the teams so close,” said Blaze team president David Holt. “It’s something Bloomington has never been able to enjoy.”

The applications followed Monday’s announcement that the Vancouver Canucks would not operate an American Hockey League franchise in Peoria. The Canucks bought the Rivermen from the St. Louis Blues last month.

In what Holt described as a “rapidly moving situation,” Central Illinois Arena Management president John Butler and general manager Bart Rogers, with support from former Rivermen owner Bruce Sauers, are working to form a company that will own both franchises. Both Butler and Rogers are former Rivermen executives.

“It’s a way to save hockey in Peoria and it fits perfectly with what Bloomington had been looking for,” said Butler.

The Blaze have been seeking a solution to a problematic absentee owner situation with New Jersey businesswoman Sandra Hunnewell and her ownership group, Hockey Sensations.

“It’s no secret we’ve been trying to find local ownership with Hockey Sensations going away,” Holt said. “As we tried to figure out the best way to move forward, we learned the Peoria building might become available. We had to formulate a plan and we lined up with Sauers.”

The SPHL’s Board of Governors is expected to act on the franchises’ membership applications at its next meeting later this week. Member franchises also share ownership of the Class A level league itself.

“Quite frankly, you have to run it like a business,” said Butler. “Their business model gives the owners more of a competitive edge in regards to viability.

“We want a long-term commitment to have hockey here for a long time and not have a revolving door with ownership.”

Bloomington’s original franchise, the PrairieThunder, initially planned to spend its first season in the ECHL along with the Rivermen. But after Peoria’s franchise jumped up to the Triple-A AHL, the PrairieThunder settled on joining the United Hockey League.

The SPHL had nine franchises last season operating in the southeastern states; the closest team to Central Illinois is the Mississippi RiverKings, who play in the Memphis, Tenn., suburb of Southaven, Miss.

However Holt said distances will not be an issue for the Central Illinois teams. In the Central Hockey League, the Blaze had to travel to Arizona and had only one opponent, Quad City, less than six hours away.

Butler said other Midwest markets could follow Bloomington and Peoria to the SPHL in future seasons.

The SPHL plays a 56-game regular season, compared to 66 over the same number of weeks in the CHL. This results in five less home games and likely fewer weekday games. Each series in the SPHL’s three-round playoffs is a best-of-three.

Holt said having Bloomington remain in the CHL with Peoria joining the league was not considered.

“The CHL was not an option,” said Holt. “There are just too many question marks in the Central Hockey League and we couldn’t take that chance.”

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(7) comments

ikilgore
ikilgore

I am pretty excited about the possibility of Peoria joining up with Bloomington and the QC team. My question would be if the Rapid City Rush will join up as well? I love watching them play Bloomington and cheering on the Rush...

Lost In Bloomington

Rumors have it that Allen, Denver, Rapid City, and Wichita may be heading to the ECHL ... Apparently one or more of the teams have press conferences scheduled for later this week ...

Other rumors have the possibility of QC and St. Charles (MO) going to SPHL at some point as well ... either immediately or next year ...

CommentCrazy

A note to David, John, and Bart (not sure if they would ever read this, but anyway) please change the name of the team. I bought into the PrairieThunder, even though it was an odd name at first. The Blaze, though, that team name was ridiculous from day one, in my opinion. Not sure what others think, but try to think of something relatable to Central Illinois, like the Cornbelters did.

rnner65

I couldn't agree more. I really liked the Prairie Thunder concept. I agree that it should bear some relationship to central Illinois. Let's hope for that kind of change!

iwftcfsitc

It's a good point. One I've been thinking about. Other requirement: I don't want a team that is also a car name. My thought, though you'll have to dig into history for it: Bloomington Miners. If you look at historical maps of the city, there are old coal mines throughout the area. That way you can say that each player is a miner. Now, each player is a ... Blaze? No.

Lost In Bloomington

The Blaze name was done to tie into local Bloomington history that apparently many either have forgot about, or do not know ... It commemerates the "Great Fire of 1900" (June 19, 1900), which destroyed 45 buildings and nearly 5 square blocks of downtown Bloomington ... It is named the Blaze as a tribute to the local firefighters of the BFD past and present as well, hence the secondary logo which looks like a firefighter shiel/logo ...

The Prairie Thunder name/logo.etc is owned by the former owner of the team who still has refused to pay his outstanding debts to those local merchants and businesses ... The Prairie Thunder moniker was not even considered for use or retention by the then new Bloomington hockey franchise for that reason ...

CommentCrazy

Good info "Lost in Bloomington". Makes sense that Prairie Thunder is still tied up. As for the Blaze, I had no idea that's what it meant, and I've been to many games. Not to dishonor that portion of Bloomington history or local firefighters, but the hockey team could use a fresh logo and colors to usher in the new ownership and league!

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