With the Federal Prospects Hockey League currently sitting at nine teams, it created a number of questions about how the league might schedule the upcoming season with an odd number of teams.
Well, the rumor mill started up when Delaware Thunder President/GM Charlie Pens leaked at the team’s introductory press conference that the league was in talks to add a 10th team for the 2019-20 season.
Over the weekend, BLH received word from multiple sources that there WILL be a 10th team hitting the ice this fall, with one source saying that the 10th team was listed on the soon-to-be-released FPHL schedule, and another source saying that the 10th team was close to hiring a General Manager to oversee its operations. The schedule COULD be announced this week according to one source.
Sources also said that while nothing is final, the rumored GM is a person hockey fans in the midwest would be familiar with.
To recap, the 10th team will reportedly not be like a traditional expansion team with individual owners, but rather, a team created out of necessity and funded by the league’s current team owners to get to an even number of teams, ensuring that one team doesn’t have to sit out each weekend, missing out on valuable home games.
But even with a 10th team being added, it still raises a few questions, including where they plan to play, and what happens to the divisional alignment that the FPHL was planning to implement this fall? Not to mention, how would the league handle the playoffs with 10 teams playing?
It also raises the question of what the team’s future is beyond the 2019-20 season, if the league would want to sell it to local owners, or if they would continue to operate it themselves, but that’s another post for another time.
Let’s start with the where they might play question. The initial rumors we had been told were that the team was eyeing The Rink in Battle Creek, Michigan, which holds around 1,000 people and had previously been a hotly rumored expansion market for the FPHL dating back to last off-season, and at the moment, Battle Creek seems like it is the front runner for the team. The problem in Battle Creek, is that the start-up Interstate Hockey League currently claims the market, but from a couple sources, that may not last long. More on that later.
If the team does play in Battle Creek, they become kind of a middle ground for Danville and Port Huron, with the Dashers being about four hours away from BC, and the Prowlers being around two-and-a-half hours away.
But another location that has been discussed per league sources, is the newly available town of Bloomington, Illinois, where the Central Illinois Flying Aces of the USHL recently went on hiatus, leaving the 7,000-seat Grossinger Motors Arena without a tenant. There was talk earlier in the year that the SPHL and FHL both had interest in the market. Some may remember that the SPHL had a team there back in 2013-14, the Bloomington Thunder, who finished 20-36, bringing in 2,358 fans a night.
But, according to those close the situation, even with interest from the FHL and the city of Bloomington, it may not be a sure thing give the city’s shaky attendance over the past couple years, averaging about 1,000 fans a night in the USHL, the United States’ top junior league. And could potentially set up another SPHL vs FPHL battle for the market n next summer, similar to the Columbus saga this year.
“Bloomington REALLY wants a team,” the source said. “And I think a few people are wary about the market’s sustainability given the recent failings and how quick the turnaround is for a new team…I guess they don’t want to go a year without hockey and I think a few people in Fed camp want to wait and see if they’d be a good expansion candidate next year.”
Bloomington, if they end up getting a team, would be a massive help to Danville, currently the league’s western-most team, at just 75 minutes away.
As for the divisional alignment question, the simplest solution would appear to be sliding Mentor from the West to the East, creating these two divisions:
East: Mentor, Watertown, Elmira, Danbury, Delaware
West: Carolina, Columbus, Port Huron, Danville, Team 10
But nothing is set in stone as far as the divisions, or if they will even adopt the divisional alignment with this new team joining the league, so this is to be determined, and an interesting wrinkle to check in on once the schedule is released.
Lastly, the 10th team raises the issue of how the league will conduct the playoffs with 10 teams. With just six teams last season, the league ran a traditional four-team bracket, with a Best-of-3 opening round, and then a Best-of-5 final. But with 10 teams, sources tell BLH that all options are currently being considered, including a ladder format, a challenge round similar to that of the SPHL, play-in games with six of the ten teams making the playoffs, or even keeping it at just four teams. Again, nothing is set as far as this goes, and will be another thing to keep an eye on throughout the summer.
To recap all this: The FPHL appears to be adding a 10th team for this coming season, but where they’ll play the season remains up in the air, as does how the or if the league will align its divisions, and how they’ll setup a playoff bracket.