BLOOMINGTON - Say goodbye to the United Hockey League. UHL officials announced Wednesday the league will change its name to the International Hockey League and field six teams for the 2007-08 season.
Paul Pickard also was named the IHL's commissioner during the league's annual meetings in Las Vegas.
The Bloomington PrairieThunder will be joined by the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Komets and Michigan-based teams the Muskegon Fury, Kalamazoo Wings, Flint Generals and Port Huron Icehawks. The Icehawks are a new club in Port Huron started after the UHL's Port Huron Flags ceased operations.
The IHL will open its 76-game regular season on Oct. 19 and the top four teams will qualify for the first round of the playoffs, which will consist of two best-of-seven game series. The winners will meet in a best-of-seven game series for the championship.
"One of the key focuses of the IHL Board of Governors and the league office will be to make on- and off-ice changes for the 2007-08 season that will create a better experience for the fans," Pickard said. "The IHL model is to have strong ownership of member clubs in an isolated geographical area so that we can provide intense and exciting rivalries and family affordable entertainment."
Pickard, who has served as Kalamazoo's vice president and general manager since 1999, said team rosters will be increased from 18 to 19 players and the salary cap will be increased. Several rule changes also were announced in an effort to promote more physical play.
"The extra roster spot could certainly be a specialty type player that has a physical presence, but we don't want to go back to the old IHL moniker as far as the goon-type hockey," Pickard said. "The rules will promote very physical hockey. Yes, maybe some fisticuffs, but we don't want to have the goon squads, either. I think it's something the players and the fans will enjoy.
"We'll call the game a lot tighter in the neutral zone so there isn't as much clutching and grabbing. We'll let the players play and be more physical without feeling they have to play on pins and needles."
Thunder General Manager Jerry McBurney embraced the new rule changes.
"It's going to be good for our fans because it's going to be a much more entertaining game on the ice," McBurney said. "It will be a tougher game, and the fans are going to love this style of play. It goes back to the old IHL days. I think for a time that was the most successful minor league in history, and we're trying to emulate that and bring back hockey that the fans want to see."
Five of the six IHL teams are holdovers from the UHL, which was a 10-team, two-division league last season. Former members the Rockford IceHogs and Quad City Mallards jumped to the American Hockey League, and the Elmira Jackals switched to the ECHL. The Port Huron Flags and Chicago Hounds ceased operations.
IHL officials will begin drawing up the schedule Thursday.
"It only comes down to where you'll see each team on average once a month," McBurney said. "In the other leagues, teams play their own division much more than they play the rest of the league. Some of the leagues play three-quarters of their games in the same division. It won't be a far departure from what other leagues have."
McBurney said the talent level also will increase in the IHL.
"With fewer teams, the talent pool won't be diluted whatsoever," McBurney said. "The dispersal draft will be next Wednesday and we're going to have the opportunity to improve our team significantly."
The IHL also unveiled its new Web site (www.ihl-hockey.com.) and logo. The league offices will move from Lake St. Louis, Mo., to Rochester, Mich.