Peoria hockey may continue in Southern Professional Hockey League

By Joe Bennett

May 13, 2013 Updated May 14, 2013 at 10:04 AM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- There are plans for the Peoria Rivermen to continue playing in the river city next season, but not in the American Hockey League.

Former Rivermen owner Bruce Saurs says he will finance the team (most likely under a Southern Professional Hockey League franchise) to keep the Rivermen playing in Peoria.

After the Vancouver Canucks notified the Peoria Civic Center they will not operate their AHL team in Peoria next season, former Rivermen owner Bruce Saurs announced a plan to keep the Peoria hockey team on ice.

"They've already designed the new jerseys, and they've got ‘Peoria Rivermen’ right on them,” Saurs says. “So we're going to play next year."

Saurs, along with former Rivermen executives Bart Rogers and John Butler, wants to run the team locally.

Rogers and Butler also own the Bloomington Blaze hockey team, and if the Blaze switch over to the same league planned for the Rivermen, Saurs says,"We'll have a great rivalry between Bloomington and Peoria. It's right close together, and even thought they own both, it will be separate run, separate general managers, separate coaches, and a separate whole staff."

Peoria Civic Center General Manger Jim Wetherington agrees both cities could strongly benefit from the local ownership.

"You can build on the 'War on 74,” Wetherington points out. “I think they'll have six or seven home games against each other, so that will be great to have that, and you can go there and see the games as well, too."

When the Rivermen were not owned locally, Wetherington says there were few attempts made in getting the players and fans to know one another.

If Saurs and his team take over, there are plans to get the Rivermen out in community events in an attempt to make the fan-base grow.

"So that's going to be a plus,” Wetherington says. “The ticket prices are going to be less, so that's going to be a plus. It's going to be a little different mindset of hockey. It's going to be a little more fun."

Aside from new jerseys, Saurs says office supplies have already been purchased to make a new home for the hockey team.

Some of the current players may even make the return, and since the name was never trademarked, the title of Peoria Rivermen would stay as well.