Wednesday, July 25, 2012
July by the Numbers visits the Land of Lincoln for jersey #25.
The history of hockey in Peoria, Illinois begins with the Peoria Blades of the Continental Hockey League, who had a ten year run from 1972-73 until 1981-82 and sported one of the worst logos on hockey history, apparently drawn by the owner's 9-year-old with a set of felt tip pens, of a goalie sitting on tracks behind a bulldozer blade in reference to construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, headquartered in Peoria.
The next team to call Peoria home saw a serious upgrade in the quality of the logo, but not the team name, as the new club was christened the Peoria Prancers, with the name coming from one of Santa Claus' reindeer of all things. A genuinely dreadful name and a heavy price to pay for the apparently required alliteration. Despite the name, the logo makes the best of the subject matter and is quite dynamic with nice visual appeal, clearly executed by a professional designer this time out.
The Prancers became members of the International Hockey League, also a step up from the semi-professional CHL of the Blades, beginning in 1982-83. After two seasons of poor play, failing to qualify for the playoffs either time, the franchise changed it's name to the Peoria Rivermen following a name the team contest for the 1984-85 season following a change in ownership.
Led by Doug Evans' 97 points and Mike Prestige's 42 goals, the newly renamed club shot to the top of the standings with a 48-25-9 record behind the goaltending of former NHLer Rick Heinz. The Rivermen backed up their regular season success and defeated Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Muskegon to capture the Turner Cup as IHL champions in their first try.
The Rivermen celebrating their 1985 Turner Cup
Six seasons later the team put together a stellar season, winning 58 games in 1990-91, including a then league record 18 game winning streak, on their way to a 121 point season. David Bruce and Nelson Emerson led the scoring attack with 116 and 115 points, respectively, as Bruce (with a league-leading 64 goals) and Dave Thomlinson (53, 3rd overall) terrorized opposing goaltenders as Bruce, Emerson, Thomlinson (107) and Michel Mongeau (106) finished 3-4-5-6 in IHL scoring.
Captain Dave Thomlinson hoists Turner Cup in 1991
In the playoffs, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Fort Wayne fell to the Rivermen as they won the second Turner Cup in franchise history. The team continued it's strong play throughout it's history, making the playoffs in 11 of it's 12 seasons while winning over 50 games three times. As a minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Blues, the Rivermen iced some noteworthy talent, including goaltender Curtis Joseph. The Rivermen would finish their run with six consecutive winning seasons but would eventually be moved to San Antonio, Texas following the 1995-96 season.
A new franchise sprung up in the wake of the departure of the IHL club, this one a member of the lower ECHL, which maintained the use of the Peoria Rivermen name as well as calling the same Carver Arena home. The new Rivermen put a solid product on the ice, making the playoffs for the first 8 of their 9 seasons while posing a winning record for all 9, the best of which was a 48-17-7 record for 103 points in 2002-03. The club also won a league championship in 1999-00 to win their only Kelly Cup.
The Kelly Cup winning Rivermen of 1999-00
In 2004, the ownership of the ECHL Rivermen purchased the Worcester IceCats of the American Hockey League, which had taken over as the unquestioned top minor league in North America with the folding of the IHL. The new owners then moved the franchise to Peoria, naturally keeping the Peoria Rivermen name and identity intact. Additionally, the IceCats just happened to be the top minor league affiliate of the same St. Louis Blues, who benefitted from Peoria being 1,000 miles closer than Worcester.
The current Rivermen have now played seven seasons in Illinois, with a winning record each and every one of those seasons as they look to add the Calder Cup to the Turner and Kelly Cups which have been won by the Rivermen of the past.
Today's featured jersey is a 2006-07 Peoria Rivermen David Backes jersey. While made by Reebok, this was still the standard air knit jersey with the straight cut at the bottom prior to the AHL switching to the new Edge jerseys with their curved lower "shirt tail" profile the following season.
Unusually, this jersey features a patch commemorating not the team's anniversary, but the 25th anniversary of professional hockey in Peoria, which dates back through the AHL Rivermen, the ECHL Rivermen and the original IHL Rivermen/Prancers franchise founded in 1982. We can't recall another instance of a patch which commemorates the existence of franchises other than the one wearing the patch, even if they all have shared the same name.
David Backes first joined the Rivermen after finishing his college career at Minnesota State at the end of the 2005-06 season. He returned to Peoria for half of the 2006-07 season before joining the St. Louis Blues, with whom he has now played six seasons and has been named team captain.
In today's video section, the Rivermen win the Kelly Cup as ECHL champions in 2000, setting off a raucous celebration.
Next up, some good old IHL mayhem as the Rivermen and the Milwaukee Admirals go at it.
Finally, a tribute to the late Michel Mongeau, a former player with Peoria who passed away in May of 2010.