Rivermen begin new era in new league

By WEEK Producer

May 22, 2013 Updated May 22, 2013 at 7:19 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- The Peoria Rivermen are going back to the future.

Just like once before Bruce Saurs leads the ownership group, putting up a half-million dollars of his own money to finance Peoria's entry into the Southern Professional Hockey League.

The new Rivermen franchise has a two-year agreement with the Civic Center, with an option for a third, an arrangement the building's general manager, Jim Wetherington, views as critical.

"We are a hockey building," Wetherington said. "The building was built for hockey first and everything is based around that. It really helps us with our staffing, it keeps the bread and the buns fresh, it just creates more synergy in facilities."

And he hopes more traffic. You see, these Rivermen won't be as hard on your wallet.

"Ticket prices are going to be much, much lower," said Saurs.

Three-hundred dollars lower for season ticket packages according to league commissioner Jim Combs. He views the simultaneous entry of both Peoria and Bloomington into the SPHL as a future growth opportunity for the league.

"Having both of them in this area opens up a whole new expansion market and the possibility of going to 6,7 8 teams up in this area," Combs explained.

"Just like the 'War on 74' is critical to Bradley and the ISU rivalry, that now, for the first time ever, is going to play itself out on the ice," said co-owner Bart Rogers, who also helps run the Bloomington Blaze and U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington.

The Civic Center isn't the only downtown business that will benefit from hockey continuing here. For example, co-owner Bruce Saurs cites his own restaurant, The Black Rabbit, located only a few blocks from here.

"That place lives and dies with events at the Civic Center," Saurs said.

"We've got a beautiful arena," said Wetherington, "we've got a great fan base and we've got a storied history."

And now a brand new chapter to write.