From the moment the ECHL’s Quad City Mallards announced they were folding after 22 seasons of hockey across a number of leagues and owners, the hottest speculation has been about when and where the next Quad City hockey team will play in the future, not if they’ll have a team.
The biggest talk seemed to be that the city and Tax Slayer Center are destined to join up with the Southern Professional Hockey League, with there reportedly being multiple groups interested in putting a team in the Quad, as well as the city passing new taxes on events at the arena that would help fund the two teams that use the arena, whatever hockey comes to Quad City and their indoor football team. The arena has also given the SPHL a list of available dates for the 2018-19 season, and the league has yet to announce its protected players lists for teams, which makes one think an announcement is on the way.
There has also been interest from owners who want to bring the new team to the United States Hockey League, the country’s only Tier 1 junior hockey league. The issue with this is that the USHL has already had its draft, meaning the team would not be playing this year, and would have to wait a year, leaving fans without hockey for the 2018-19 season.
While the SPHL would be a chance for the city to have hockey this year and keep hockey going consecutively, I am of the opinion that the USHL would be a much better fit for the city.
It’s no secret that the team lost tons of money in the ECHL, and dropping to either league would save on costs, but dropping to the USHL saves a TON of money for the next potential owners in two ways:
- You don’t have to pay the players, even in the SPHL where players make just over $150 a game, that saves you in the neighborhood of $250,000 a year, which is a HUGE deal in a sport where the difference in 50 fans a night can be more than $20,000 over the course of the season.
- Travel. Yes, the Quad Cities has been a pro hockey town since its inception, but looking at some maps, the SPHL just doesn’t make sense, and while it would be a reduction in travel from the ECHL, it would still be a lot of long bus rides.
Look at a map of the USHL with Quad City added:
A Quad City team is smack-dab right in the middle of the damn league. Seriously, if you said “Pick the best city to add a USHL team in,” the Quad Cities would be your first pick and it’s not close. The longest trip is to Fargo at nine hours, while they would have no less than SEVEN teams within three hours of them that could be rivals, not to mention possible rivalries with old UHL teams like Muskegon.
Now take a look at a map of the SPHL with Quad City added:
You have Peoria that’s an hour-and-a-half away and becomes an instant rival, and then you have Evansville as your next closet team at six hours away. Your second closest team is six hours away, in the USHL there might be four of the 17 teams who are more than six hours away. Then you have trips to Fayetteviille and Macon that are 13 to 14 hours away. It’s a travel nightmare as the eastern- AND northern-most team.
I get the SPHL and its fans want to add Quad City because it would be a HUGE get for the league, while giving Evansville and Peoria another regional team. In all honesty, it’s city profile and arena size fits in better with the SPHL, but logistically, it just doesn’t make sense.
On the arena issue, the rink holds 9,200 for hockey, which is close to many SPHL teams not named Birmingham, and way bigger than all but two USHL rinks…but all of those teams in the SPHL only do 3-4k a night in those 9k seat places. So like they did with the ECHL, you’d can curtain off the upper deck for either team, or even just close it down all together, which again saves on costs since you’re not needing that space.
Other things to consider: joining the SPHL would be a brand new franchise which means higher fees, and forces you to scramble to get a team name, logo, staff, schedule, marketing, and everything else you need for a team off the ice, in a span of about five months. It also makes the league go from 10 teams to an odd 11 with Quad City, meaning every weekend one team is going to be off, which is always a problem.
In the USHL, there is the dormant Indiana Ice franchise they could take over, and it gives the league its much-desired 18th team, and a chance to even out the divisions at nine each or maybe even three with six teams in each, so as much as it helps the region with a team, it helps the league out more. And it gives the new owners more than a year to work out the logistics, market in the community, and who knows, maybe you hold an exhibition game or two in the arena so fans can see what the USHL has to offer.
I get the area has been a pro hockey town, and there is a stigma of going from watching grown men who are pros, to watching 16-20 year-olds. But this isn’t just random high school hockey, it’s the best junior players in the country and even the world. The No. 2 ranked prospect in this year’s NHL Draft played a season in Muskegon. You are getting to see future NHL stars every night the USHL comes to town. No offense to the SPHL, it’s fun hockey and a very well-run league, but you’re seeing guys who MIGHT make the ECHL, the league that just left town, and that’s about it for their career development.
So yes, I understand the city wants hockey and wants it now, and that the SPHL is the only option for that, but the city and its hockey fans would be better off waiting a year and joining the USHL for the 2019-20 season.