Rivermen hockey opens 40th season as SPHL faces huge roster challenges
PEORIA – The Peoria Rivermens will begin their organizational recovery from the pandemic – the game on the ice – when they open the 2021-22 Southern Professional Hockey League season on Friday at Carver Arena.
Building a team for that milestone night – the Rivermens let go in their 40th season – has been perhaps the biggest challenge of coach Jean-Guy Trudel’s career.
The pandemic has had a lasting impact on professional hockey at the minor league level.
“It was a frustrating and difficult process,” Trudel said as he navigated the list building last month. “There are simply no players among the usual sources to obtain.”
“Every team in our league is in this situation. We all face it. It is unlike anything I have ever faced. It has been a huge challenge for the roster and it will be ongoing.”
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COVID travel restrictions have reduced the number of European players available to come to the United States and play for SPHL teams.
The Rivermens wanted Sweden’s Robin Hoglund, who played here in 2019-20, to return this season. But the process of getting him here, the team says, takes months and the player wouldn’t be available until the end of the season.
“Just crazy,” Trudel said. “And there are other factors that reduce players, like the university situation.”
When the pandemic hit, the NCAA granted an additional year of eligibility to its student-athletes to make up for a lost season.
Thus, college graduates who normally fill the SPHL rosters are not here this fall. They are playing a fifth year of college hockey.
Now add the ECHL Double-A, which saw 11 teams withdraw from the 2020-21 season. These teams have all returned this fall and are scrambling to recruit players. This has had a direct impact on the Rivermens, as key players like forwards Jordan Ernst and Darren McCormick and defender Jake Hamilton remain in the ECHL camps.
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ECHL also delayed the start of its regular season, putting the top A-level SPHL in the position to open its season before ECHL, rather than after.
This spoils the normal runoff of the players.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years of involvement in professional hockey,” Pensacola Ice Flyers coach Rod Aldoff, reigning SPHL champion, told the Pensacola News Journal.
It will be a relief when Trudel and the Rivermens take the ice Friday and Saturday against Macon. It will look like a simple stopover, but the trip from March 2020 to Friday night was anything but.
Peoria Rivermen ticket information
Prices for individual game tickets are $ 13 for the upper bowl and $ 22 for the lower bowl seats this season. However, there’s a special deal for Bruce Saurs Opening Weekend: two tickets to the lower sections of the bowl for $ 25. The first 1,500 spectators on the opening night benefit from a magnetic program.
The Rivermens have a key defender Brandon mcmartin back from ECHL Jacksonville on Thursday and he’ll be ready for Game 1 here. … Defender of the Rivermen Jake hamilton was released by ECHL Atlanta, and immediately nabbed by ECHL Adirondack. … The Rivermens signed the left wing Mathieu Cloutier Thursday. The 21-year-old captained Gatineau in the QJHL. … The Rivermens have given up on the defender Alex D’Oliveira. … Quad City has given up on the former Rivermen defender Brandon parrone. … Roanoke relinquished the veterans center Steve mele.
Dave Eminian is the Sports Columnist for The Journal Star and covers Bradley’s men’s basketball, the Rivermens and the Chiefs. He writes the sports column Cleve In The Eve for pjstar.com. Contact him at 686-3206 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.