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Three leagues pitch Evansville for new-arena lease

Three hockey leagues — the ECHL, the CHL and the USHL — have responded to a call from the city of Evansville for proposals to lease a new downtown arena slated to open in 2011.

All three submitted detailed information about their leagues, teams and potential leases. All three are on solid financial footing. The CHL proposal came from the Evansville IceMen, an existing team; the ECHL and USHL would place expansion franchises in the arena. Earlier the NAHL had shown interest in placing a team in Evansville, but in the end did not submit a proposal to the city.

The city is literally starting from scratch when it comes to lease requirements: the Hockey Subcommittee of the Arena Project Committee is a group of citizens reviewing the proposals. But, as it’s been described to us, the committee has recommendation powers but will not make a final decision on a team. Still, as the group working out the details — like reviewing ticket pricing, concession pricing, suite pricing, rent, practice-time charges and more — they do have a lof of power.

And there’s one more criteria that may end up being more important than city officials originally realized: the level of play. Both the ECHL and the CHL advertise themselves as being the equivalents of Class AA in baseball, but that’s misleading. NHL teams do not send high-level prospects to the CHL; they’re likely to play in junior hockey and then perhaps at the AHL level. Many of these high-level prospects do begin in the USHL: the likes of Thomas Vanek or Blake Wheeler began their careers in the USHL before graduating to the University of Minnesota and then the NHL. Similarly, you have a much better chance of seeing a future NHL player in the ECHL than in the CHL. But as the existing team, the IceMen have home-field advantage. Should be an interesting decision-making process.

Image courtesy of Populous.

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