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Ex-AHL Peoria owner blasts Blues over selling club, calls move ‘disgusting’

Apr 1, 2013, 11:35 PM EDT

TomStillman

Earlier today, we passed along word that the Vancouver Canucks had purchased St. Louis’ AHL affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen.

Turns out the move isn’t sitting well with Peoria’s former owner.

Bruce Saurs, who owned the club for 19 years before selling to St. Louis in the summer of 2008, ripped the Blues and owner Tom Stillman (pictured) in speaking with Dave Eminian of the Peoria Journal Star.

Here’s what Saurs told Eminian:

“I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. They’ve been crap here for years and there was no sign they were willing to spend any money to market or operate the team.

“Stillman is supposed to be a billionaire, I thought. He could have left this team in Peoria forever if he wanted to. I talked to him myself, many times. He raved about how easy the drive was, and how he loved the building and the market and what a great player development situation it was for St. Louis.

“He lied. He could have left this team in Peoria forever. It’s just indifference.

“The whole thing is disgusting.”

The Rivermen have been St. Louis’ American League affiliate since 2005.

The Blues announced the sale on their website today, but said they were “unable to provide further details” out of “respect for the AHL’s approval process.”

It’s been speculated the Canucks will move the Rivermen to Abbotsford, a Vancouver suburb currently home to Calgary’s AHL affiliate.

Abbotsford has struggled to attract fans to watch the Flames’ farm team in a pro-Canucks market, with one notable exception: when Vancouver’s AHL team from Chicago is in town.

For now, Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini is only calling it an “exciting opportunity,” adding that the “purchase of the Peoria franchise allows us to take an important step and assume full control of our minor league development program.”

According to The Province, it’s possible the Blues could move their AHL program to Chicago and the Flames could end up in Utica, New York.

  1. kicksave1980 - Apr 1, 2013 at 11:57 PM

    Shame for the fans in Peoria. The article accurately says that the Rivermen have been the Blues affiliate since 2005, but the Peoria market was also home to the Blues’ top affiliate in the old IHL (which was an outstanding league in its day). I’m not a Blues fan by any stretch, but to pull out of a traditional Blues-held area is a strange decision.

    That’s why I love watching minor league hockey, but I could never really get too emotionally into it. Your existence at the mercy of far-away based owners and affiliates. I hope the fans in Peoria get another team in short order. It’s never good to hear about any city losing a team, at any level. If they can’t get another AHL team, I think they’d be a prime candidate for an ECHL franchise. They fit the general geographic area pretty well, at least for the Eastern conference.

  2. blomfeld - Apr 2, 2013 at 12:59 AM

    Jim Carey in Ten Years ?

  3. canucks30 - Apr 2, 2013 at 3:07 AM

    I feel bad for the fans in Peoria but this could turn out to be a win-win scenario for the Canucks and Blues. Vancouver can set up their AHL team in Abbotsford and run it independently to maximize player development and allow many Canucks fans who can’t afford or get NHL tickets in the Fraser Valley an opportunity to see Vancouver’s prospects. Meanwhile the Blues get the Chicago Wolves; probably one of the best run operations in the AHL albeit one that enjoys a great deal of autonomy in hockey decisions.

    The next step of course is relocating the Abbotsford Heat which won’t be easy.

  4. comeonnowguys - Apr 2, 2013 at 9:21 AM

    He should have realized something was up when someone actually raved about the drive from St. Louis to Peoria. Someone says that, they’re selling something.

    It’s funny to me that the Wolves may be switching from one of the Blackhawks’ more hated rivals of the past couple years with realignment to the Hawks’ soon-to-be biggest division rival. And apparently, attendance hasn’t waned a bit.

  5. earpaniac - Apr 2, 2013 at 10:38 AM

    The Wolves do a great job marketing. You see them around here almost as much you do the Blackhawks. And with the ‘Hawks sell-out streak, it’s sometimes easier to get tickets, plus they are more affordable.

  6. nhstateline - Apr 2, 2013 at 12:27 PM

    The Peoria Rivermen were the Worcester Ice Cats before that. Teams only been there for nine years. Peoria’s gain was someone else’s loss and Worcester’s later gain was Cleveland’s loss. That’s the minors for you.

  7. mhazz84 - Apr 2, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    Not sure where you heard that. The franchise has been in Peoria longer than I have been alive. They started as the Peoria Prancers in 1982 and were renamed the Rivermen in 1984.

  8. wingsdjy - Apr 2, 2013 at 2:54 PM

    Potentially dumb question: When a minor league team is sold to another program, are the players transferred as well? I.e., is Jake Allen now going to be a Canuck instead of a Blue next time he gets activated into the NHL? Or will Allen get relocated to the Wolves (should they become the Blues farm club)?

    • kicksave1980 - Apr 3, 2013 at 12:51 AM

      @Wingdjy- When an affiliation changes, the players stay with their parent team’s affiliate. So in the example you gave, Jake Allen would indeed be a member of the Wolves (or whoever they affiliate with).

      • wingsdjy - Apr 3, 2013 at 10:06 AM

        Thanks. I figured that was the case.

        I’ve lived in Peoria since 2005. Next year is going to be rough:
        – No more Rivermen
        – Red Wings will no longer be in the same division as St. Louis and Chicago (I only get to see the Wings when they’re on CSN Chicago or FSN MW).

        On the plus side, Detroit being in the Eastern conference will probably get them more coverage on NBCSN.

        BTW, got to love getting a thumbs down for just asking an honest question.

      • kicksave1980 - Apr 3, 2013 at 8:18 PM

        Yeah, not sure why someone would thumb you down for that. When I see legitimate comments getting thumbs down, I picture a guy who hates his job sitting there all day thumbing down every comment.

        There’s still time for the Rivermen to figure something out, even if it isn’t an ideal situation. Thankfully for the fans in Peoria, there might be enough time to work with another league for expansion as early as next season, providing the AHL doesn’t take too long to tell them their fate.

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