BLOOMINGTON — The unanimous approval Monday night by the City Council to bring new Central Hockey League ownership to U.S. Cellular Coliseum will help solidify a league that has seen teams flee or fold in recent weeks, said Rick Kozuback, president of Global Entertainment Corp.
After making a presentation to the council on behalf of the league and new ownership, Kozuback said he expects the Global Entertainment-owned CHL to be a 12- to 14-team league for the 2011-12 season. That will include a yet-to-be-named franchise owned by partners Gary DelBuono of Boston and Sandra Hunnewell of New Jersey as the Coliseum’s primary tenant.
Kozuback said CHL commissioner Duane Lewis has given other teams a deadline of Friday to commit to playing in the league for the season that begins in October. The CHL had 18 teams last season.
“We may have some teams take a leave of absence this season,” Kozuback said. “It’s a little bit in a state of flux at the moment. But we will have plenty of teams that will play and solidify the season.”
Quad City unexpectedly folded earlier this month, Rio Grande Valley has closed its offices after missing payroll and Odessa has left for the North American Hockey League. Meanwhile, published reports have speculated that Colorado, one of the marquee CHL franchises, may leave for the ECHL next season.
An owners’ meeting is scheduled for June 10, Kozuback said.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear what lead owner Tim Leighton’s plans are for the Bloomington PrairieThunder, the franchise that he oversees. Leighton was present for the City Council meeting, but declined comment as he left City Hall before the council had voted.
Following the 9-0 vote that cleared the way for DelBuono and Hunnewell, Leighton issued a statement, which included the following:
“We hope the mayor, City Council, and Coliseum management are entrusting the next chapter of Bloomington hockey to those who are qualified and committed and able to take professional hockey in our community to the next level. We look forward to hearing from the new ownership group and formulate a smooth transition into the upcoming 2011-12 hockey season.”
Kozuback was asked if the CHL would be interested in helping Leighton find a new city for his franchise.
“If he had the financial resources to do it,” Kozuback said.
The financials of the PrairieThunder remain in question. The IRS filed a tax lien against the PrairieThunder in March claiming unpaid payroll taxes. While Central Illinois Arena Management president John Butler said the PrairieThunder does not owe the Coliseum any money, it was revealed Monday that there is a $6,500 bill outstanding with the Pepsi Ice Center, where the team occasionally practices. The Pepsi Ice Center is run by the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department.
Kozuback also told the council that the CHL tried to bring in investors last season to back the PrairieThunder but those offers were rebuffed.
“We have been working since October to strengthen ownership here,” Kozuback said.
Kozuback and PrairieThunder general manager Jim Riggs both said they are waiting to hear from the league about the rights to the players who last played for the PrairieThunder.
Lewis could not be reached for comment.