WMBD/WYZZ-TV - BLOOMINGTON, Ill. -- On the same day pro hockey appeared to be leaving Peoria, it now looks to be staying in town.
A local investment team plans to put hockey teams in Peoria and Bloomington that will compete in the Southern Professional Hockey League. The investors have applied for teams in the SPHL, said John Butler, president of Central Illinois Arena Management, Inc.
Monday morning, the Peoria Civic Center announced the Vancouver Canucks would not be keeping their AAA minor league hockey team in Peoria. Vancouver purchased the team from the St. Louis Blues, which bought the Peoria Rivermen three years ago.
Butler and Bart Rogers, who operate U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington, put together an ownership group to keep professional hockey in Peoria, where it has been for 31 years. The SPHL is expected to approve the new teams this week.
The deal puts Peoria and Bloomington in the same hockey league for the first time. Butler and Rogers, each former general managers with the Rivermen, would own both teams.
The SPHL is a nine-team Class A league founded in 2004. The league plays a 56-game schedule with no of its team having an affiliation with a National Hockey league parent club.
Bruce Saurs, who owned the Rivermen for 18 years and employed both Butler and Rogers, is part of the ownership group and will serve as an advisor. Saurs, 87, sold the Rivermen to the St. Louis Blues.
Bloomington has played Class A hockey for seven seasons under the names PrairieThunder and Blaze. Last season, the Blaze played in the Cetral Hockey League.
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