If you have ever played sports, imagine working all season to be the best team in your league and have home-field or ice advantage in the playoffs, only to not play a single game in your home rink for the first two rounds.
That very scenario is playing out for the Southern Professional Hockey League regular-season champion Peoria Rivermen.
“We have been left with nowhere else to go,” Rivermen co-owner Bart Rogers told the Peoria Journal-Star’s Dave Eminian. “We either have to play the games at our opponent’s arena, or play at our practice site.”
According to the Peoria Civic Center’s website and Rogers, the arena will be holding Monster Jam on April 15 & 16, along with several other events.
Monday, the team said they would play their home playoff games for the first two rounds of the SPHL President’s Cup Playoffs at the Owens Center, an arena which holds 950 people and serves as the practice rink for the Rivermen. By comparison, the Civic Center holds up to 11,442 people and the Rivermen have averaged 3,952 fans so far this season.
Eminian reports the Rivermen have nearly 1,000 season ticket holders, so it’s conceivable that some who paid for playoff tickets will not be able to watch the games. The Sin Bin has reached out to the Rivermen to discuss what their plans maybe for those who cannot watch games, but have yet to hear anything.
This is the second year such a scenario has presented itself to management of the Peoria Civic Center. Eminian says that had the Rivermen played for a title last season, the team would have had to play all of their title games on the road.
“It’s very disappointing,” Rogers said. “Your team works hard and has an incredible season and earns home-ice, and then we end up playing at our practice facility. It’s a blow to the team, to the fan base and advertisers and supporters in central Illinois. Our lease expires after next season. And I can tell you right now, this is going to be an issue when we sit down to discuss any extension.”
In order to maintain weekend-heavy dates, the SPHL playoffs are all best-of-three series. SPHL Commissioner Jim Combs tells The Sin Bin “we are working with the team to find the best possible solution.” Combs also said that “teams in the AHL, ECHL and the SPHL do play playoff games in practice arenas when the use of the big arena is unavailable.”
This is the third straight season the SPHL has dealt with scheduling conflicts during it’s playoffs. Two years ago, the Louisiana IceGators were forced to play their home playoff games in Knoxville, and were swept. Last season, in the league’s championship series, the Mississippi Riverkings were booked out of their arena and had to play on the road…in Knoxville. The IceBears went on to sweep the Riverkings to win the SPHL title last season.
Stay with The Sin Bin for more on this story.