Barring some last-minute problems, there will be a new Bloomington USHL team for the 2014-2015 season, replacing the pro Thunder squad.
Technically, what’s coming to U.S. Cellular Coliseum is an expansion team that has no corporate tie to the old Bloomington Thunder team that just wrapped up the 2013-2014 season in the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). But it’s expected that the new team will retain the Thunder nickname and branding.
The new team will be owned by CSH International, which owns and operates other minor-league and summer-collegiate teams in hockey and baseball. Their current junior hockey properties include the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League (WHL), Amarillo Bulls of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), and North Iowa Bulls of the NA3HL.
“We have long had interest in owning and operating a team in the USHL, and we believe that having a team in Bloomington is a great opportunity for our group,” said Gary Gelinas, President of CSH International. “We sought out the Bloomington market and specifically for the USHL due to its stability and elite players. The USHL is an outstanding league that has experienced significant growth over the last several years, providing an elite platform for some of the best junior hockey players in the world to pursue their NCAA and NHL dreams. We want to be a part of that and believe Bloomington is a prime destination to become a part of the USHL.
“Bloomington has developed a tradition of hockey over the last several years that continued this past season with the Bloomington Thunder in the SPHL, and the city has one of the best arenas of its size in the Midwest with the U.S. Cellular Coliseum,” said Gelinas. “With a passionate fan base, community support, and high-quality facilities, it provides the perfect formula to become a top-quality organization in the USHL. It takes a special type of community to support a USHL club, and we believe that we have one of those communities right here in Bloomington.”
CSH International includes CEO Bill Yuill, a businessman from western Canada that is the Chairman and CEO of The Monarch Corporation, a private investment company, and Gelinas, who has operated multiple sports properties and has extensive experience in the investment business. Yuill and Gelinas are also partners in a private equity fund headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona.
The formal proposal by CSH International is subject to final review of league documentation by the USHL and its Board of Directors. Currently with 17 Member Clubs, the USHL has operated as a junior league since 1979 and has been the nation’s only Tier 1 junior hockey league since earning that designation from USA Hockey in 2002. With a player base in the age range of 16-20 years old, it is the top destination for players with NCAA Division I hockey and NHL aspirations. Over 300 players that have competed in the USHL during the 2013-14 season have earned NCAA Division I scholarship opportunities. Multiple players each season are selected in the NHL Draft and over 200 alumni of the League are currently under NHL contract. Prominent alumni include NHL players David Backes (St. Louis Blues), Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks), Thomas Vanek (Montreal Canadiens), Kyle Okposo (New York Islanders), plus Illinois natives John Moore (New York Rangers) and Tommy Wingels (San Jose Sharks).
The USHL has already announced that the Madison Capitols (Wisconsin) are being added to the League as an expansion club for the 2014-15 season.