PEORIA, ILL – Time to say goodbye.
The AHL era ended in Peoria with a trip down memory lane. Many fans in attendance were shaking hands on the concourse. The traditional on-ice games between periods were run not by fans but by former team mascots. After the game, most of the 4302 fans filed down the arena steps and onto the ice to mingle with the players one last time.
Coincidentally, the final AHL game came against the Milwaukee Admirals, the same team the Rivermen ended their IHL regular season against.
It was a 3-0 defeat, the Rivermen were shut out in their final two home games.
Prominently displayed were homemade signs expressing negative opinions and questionable parentage of Tom Stillman, the majority owner of the Blues who sold the Rivermen late in the season. The team then proceeded to trade away almost two complete lines of players to playoff-bound teams and filling in with Junior and college players
There were hijinks. An early version of the scoresheet reported 22568 as the attendance (The arena holds around 10,000). Former intern and current cameraman Lee Pikelny was a featured dancer during the Cha-Cha Slide. Off-ice officials were encouraged to dance “Gangnam-Style.” Even the team’s bus driver was given a moment in the spotlight.
The call of “one-minute left” by PA announcer BJ Stone choked up many, including this writer.
The players and front office personnel gave a heartfelt video farewell to the fans.
The players will move on with the rest of the Blues’ farm system or to other teams, the front office, however, are looking for jobs.
As fans streamed onto the ice for an autograph session, several fans still in the stands began a “We Want Hockey!” chant.
For the record, Stefan Della Rovere was the last one off the ice after the goal horn sounded one last time.
Eventually, all the fans who wished to were ushered onto the ice and the players stayed until every last autograph was signed and picture taken. Then the players filed back into the locker room. The tables were folded and the chairs put away.
Finally, the lights went out and the arena went dark.
BREAKING UPDATE: April 23, 2013 – As broken via Twitter by ProHockeyNews.com – An executive from the Vancouver Canucks will arrive in Peoria this morning to tour the Peoria Civic Center. Discussions between the Canucks and the City of Abbotsford broke down over the weekend. A glimmer of hope remains for AHL hockey in Peoria.
Photos by Chris Loudermilk
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