Rapid City Rush principal owner Scott Mueller hopes a change of ownership of the Central Hockey League will help bring stability to the economically volatile world of minor league professional hockey.
Mueller has even more of a stake now as part of a group of franchise owners — Central Partners LLC — which have assumed ownership and control of the league in a move announced Thursday.
“At least we’ll set our own destiny and have more control to be able to do some things we haven’t been able to in the past. I think of all minor league sports, and professional sports in general, this is the way that it is done,” Mueller said after the group announced the purchase of the league from Western Professional Hockey, based in Dallas. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The CHL which started play at the AA level in 1992, merged with the WPHL in 2001. Since Rapid City joined the CHL for its inaugural season in 2008-2009, more than a dozen teams have shuttered or moved to other leagues.
A two-year agreement with the International Hockey League expanded the league to 18 teams for the 2010-2011 season, but only one of those franchises, the Quad City Mallards, remains in the CHL. Offsetting the losses has been the addition of five expansion teams.
“We’ll be trying to build this league up with more teams that it has had in the past. We think we’ve got some good ideas and ways to do that,” Mueller said.
Mueller hinted at changes with more emphasis on marketing the league at the corporate level, but he said other potentially substantial changes in structure will wait until the league’s annual summer conference, pushed back to mid-July in Phoenix because of the pending sale.
Mueller said the new ownership group hopes to have a 2013-14 schedule released before the summer conference. In recent years the schedule has not been released until late July or even August, with training camps set to open in early October and the season underway later that month.
“That’s one of the things right there that we know has to change,” Mueller said of the schedule release.
Team owners have made attempts to purchase the league for at least two years from the former ownership group headed by Jim Treliving, George Melville and Rick Kozuback.
“This process has been underway for some time now and with the collection of great minds and accomplished professionals that compose the ownership groups of the League’s teams, we are confident that the sky is the limit for the heights the CHL will rise to,” Michael Carper, co-owner of the Missouri Mavericks of Independence, Mo., said in the news release. “Great things are set to come for the CHL’s member clubs and for the fans of the teams and league,” Carper stated.
Rodney Steven II, co-owner of the Wichita Thunder, was named interim chairman of the new ownership group and said in a prepared statement that he hopes to stand with other owners to move the league forward.
“The passion and vision of this group will help our league grow and will help the CHL earn the status of one of the top sports leagues in North America,” Steven said.
Along with Rapid City, Wichita and Missouri, defending CHL champion Allen Americans, Arizona Sundogs, Tulsa Oilers, Quad City Mallards and Denver Cutthroats are set to play next year.
The CHL announced earlier this week that two other franchises, the Bloomington (Ill.) Blaze and Fort Worth (Texas) Brahmas, would not be active for 2013-2014.
The Blaze will move to the Single-A level Southern Professional Hockey League, and the Brahmas, CHL champion in 2009, hope to find another home-ice venue to enable the team to return in 2014-15.
Rounding out the 10-team line-up for 2013-14 are two expansion franchises, the Brampton (Ontario) Beast, coached by former Rush captain and assistant coach Mark DeSantis, and the St. Charles (Mo.) Chill, coached by former NHL defenseman Jamie Rivers.