Rivermen Gift Shop at the Peoria Civic Center; photo by Wes Schmidgall.
PEORIA — The St. Louis Blues recently sold the Peoria Rivermen to the Vancouver Canucks, making the future of professional hockey in Peoria uncertain.
The AAA affiliate of the St. Louis Blues will move from Peoria to Abbotsford, B.C., at the end of the 2012-2013 season.
“As of right now the Rivermen are folding up shop here at the end of the season and what happens from there is up to somebody brand new,” said Peoria Rivermen Director of Communications Brendan Burke. “There will have to be a local owner willing to bring in another team or the Civic Center has to bring in a team.”
The St. Louis Blues are trying to become a parent club of the Chicago Wolves, whose parent club agreement with the Vancouver Canucks expires at the end of this season.
“The rumor is that the St. Louis Blues will be affiliated with the Chicago Wolves, thus sending their players to Chicago,” said Burke. “This hasn’t been confirmed.”
According to a news release, the Peoria Civic Center is trying to bring another hockey team to Peoria.
“The SMG managed Peoria Civic Center values the relationship we have had with the Blues organization and look forward to finishing out a successful season,” said Peoria Civic Center Assistant Director of Marketing Megan Pedigo in a news release. “We wish them the best in their new ventures. Hockey is an important piece of our business model and we will aggressively pursue every opportunity to bring another team to town.”
The St. Louis Blues had two more seasons left on their lease with the Peoria Civic Center. They will pay a $90,000 penalty to opt out of that contract.
Jon Sweney and his wife Trisha traveled from Bushnell to Peoria Saturday to purchase tickets for all of the remaining Rivermen home games for this season.
“It’s about an hour’s drive so we try to go to at least a dozen games every year, but we’re going to hit them all for the rest of the season just in case there isn’t any more (hockey),” said Sweney, who attended the 1985 International Hockey League Turner Cup Championship game that was won by the Rivermen.
Sweney thinks professional hockey will return to Peoria after this season.
“I think hockey will be here for a long time,” said Sweney.
If professional hockey doesn’t return to Peoria, Sweney plans to become a fan of the Vancouver Canucks.
The Peoria Rivermen franchise was established as an IHL team in 1982. The Peoria Civic Center started operating the Peoria Rivermen in 1984. Bruce Saurs purchased the franchise from the City of Peoria in 1989. The franchise dropped down to the East Coast Hockey League for the 1996-1997 season.
“I know when I first bought the Rivermen from the city we did quite well in the International Hockey League,” said Saurs. “But then we moved down to the Double-A level in the ECHL and we lost a lot of money there.”
The Rivermen moved to the American Hockey League for the 2005-2006 season, before Saurs sold the franchise to the St. Louis Blues in 2008.
Saurs was “kind of in a state of shock” when he heard the Blues had sold the franchise to the Canucks.
“I think we need the Rivermen here, just like the (Peoria) Chiefs and Bradley (University),” said Saurs. “We need it all.”