November 9, 2004 - American Hockey League (AHL) - Worcester IceCats
ST. LOUIS, Nov. 9, 2004 The St. Louis Blues today announced they have entered an agreement to sell their Worcester IceCats team of the American Hockey League to Peoria business leaders Bruce Saurs and Anne Griffith. Saurs and Griffith announced they plan to move the IceCats operation for the 2005-2006 season to Peoria, where the team would continue to operate as the Blues affiliate in the AHL.
Both the sale and the relocation are pending approval by the AHLs Board of Governors.
The IceCats are currently playing their 11th season in Worcester. Following the 2004-2005 season, the IceCats will move west to Peoria, where the Peoria Rivermen served as the primary base for the Blues minor league system from the mid 1980s through 1994.
By having our AHL affiliate team in Peoria, where it will be operated by strong local ownership, the Blues will benefit by halting our substantial operating losses as our AHL franchise owner in Worcester while maintaining our ability to monitor and develop our prospects, said Mark Sauer, president and CEO of the Blues. Its also a plus for hockey fans in St. Louis and Peoria. The Blues-Peoria partnership was key in driving interest in our sport at all levels during the late 1980s and early 1990s. We look forward to rekindling that enthusiasm starting in 2005.
Under Saurs ownership, the Peoria Rivermen of the International Hockey League served as the Blues primary minor league club for five seasons, from 1989 to 1994. In 1990-1991, the Rivermen led by head coach Bob Plager and a cast of future Blues gained the attention of the hockey world by starting the season with a professional record 18 straight wins and later won the Turner Cup as the IHLs champion.
The Blues moved their primary minor league operation in 1994 to Worcester of the AHL, which had emerged as North Americas premier developmental league. The Blues then purchased the IceCats in September 2001, keeping the team in Worcester after the previous ownership group failed to pay its AHL affiliation fees to the Blues and did not meet other financial obligations. Later that fall, the AHL expanded geographically by taking in six teams from the IHL, which had closed its operation in June.
Unlike 10 years ago, today the AHL has teams in Milwaukee, Chicago, Houston and Cincinnati, and Des Moines will join the league with Peoria in 2005, Sauer said. Therefore, travel will be efficient and rivalries will be certain to develop. Thats good for hockey and player development, and it assists our overall financial results.
We will leave Worcester after this season with regret. Worcester is a terrific community. Unfortunately, ticket revenue and corporate sponsorship levels in Worcester are well under AHL averages, and for many years there has been no one locally interested in investing in the IceCats. Bruce and Anne approached us and made a substantial offer to purchase the IceCats, and as a result we will be in a stronger position financially regarding player development.
Saurs and Griffith currently own and operate the Peoria Rivermen in the East Coast Hockey League. The Rivermen are the Blues current affiliate in the ECHL.
Worcester can now turn its attention to getting a new team to play at the Centrum, hopefully by next year, Sauer concluded.