WMBD.WYZZ-TV - PEORIA, Ill. - Central Illinois hockey is about to go south.
The Southern Professional Hockey League, that is.
The Peoria Rivermen open the season against the Bloomington Thunder Friday at U.S. Cellular Coliseum. Both teams are making their debut in the SPHL.
"Peoria being 40 minutes away, we're going to see them a lot," said Thunder head coach Brian Gratz. "We might as well start the season with a team that we're going to be very familiar with. It'll be a great rivalry. I know for both the fans and the players."
The Thunder played in the Central Hockey league last season, while the Rivermen were in the Class AAA American Hockey League. The St. Louis Blues pulled their affiliation out of Peoria and moved their team to Chicago.
The Rivermen franchise was in limbo until a local ownership team headed by Bart Rogers and John Butler put a Class A team back in Carver Arena. Peoria, which has had professional hockey since the early 1980's, will host Bloomington in its home opener Satuday night.
"I think they have a very good team also," Rivermen coach Jean-Guy Trudel said of the Thunder. "It's going to be a great rivalry and I think it's going to get more and more heated becasue we play them 16 times this year."