Blues Deny Reports of a Moncton Affiliate

Article excerpt

It has been a model major-minor-league affiliation.

The Blues and Peoria Rivermen have worked together since 1984. With the cities just 2 1/2 hours apart, players shuttle easily between the teams and the Blues maintain a steady watch on their prospects.

The Blues have played in Peoria, Ill., the Rivermen have played here, and the franchises share thousands of common fans. But how much longer will the marriage last?

At the urging of new general manager and coach Mike Keenan, the Blues have explored affiliation options with the American Hockey League. Last week, the team sent a letter to Labatts Breweries Ltd., which hopes to purchase a new franchise for Moncton, New Brunswick.

The Moncton Times-Transcript described it as a non-binding letter of intent, a promise by the Blues to negotiate toward a working agreement with Labatts should it land the team.

That assertion stunned the Rivermen. "Nothing would surprise me," owner Bruce Saurs told the Peoria Journal Star. "But I have to admit this is a shock."

But Blues President Jack Quinn said the letter merely boosted the effort to bring the AHL back to Moncton. "That has nothing to do with saying we're moving," he said.

Quinn said no affiliation move is planned. And if the Blues ever do move, he said, it won't be to Moncton.

Several National Hockey League teams are concerned that the International Hockey League has become a veteran-dominated operation unfit for player development.

Rivermen general manager Denis Cyr is confident that the IHL, which has 10 NHL affiliates, will continue prospering as a proving ground. The most affiliations it could lose to the AHL next season is two. The other AHL teams already have NHL affiliations.

"As far as a developmental team, this is what we've always been," Cyr said. "We've developed players, coaches and trainers for them. We've had a great relationship with the Blues. (Dave) Roberts, the Laperrieres (Ian and Dan), Geoff (Sarjeant) . . . it's going to be a quicker adjustment for them in the NHL than if they come from the AHL."

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Rolling On The River: On the ice, the Rivermen are dominating. In a six-day span, they beat Cincinnati 5-4, the Soviet Wings 4-1, Fort Wayne 5-1, Indianapolis 8-1 and Kansas City 3-2 to run their winning streak to eight games.

For the Blues, the most encouraging aspect of that surge was the play of Roberts, who finally found his scoring touch. The former U.S. Olympian scored a hat trick against Indy, giving him 10 goals in his last 12 games.

Also notable in the surge:

- Sarjeant was 9-1-1 in December with a .906 save percentage and a 2.91 goals-against average.

- Ex-Blue Ron Hoover continues to be one of the most valuable two-way forwards in the league. His plus-minus rating is a league-high plus 23, and he produced five goals and five assists in his last five games, earning the IHL player of the week honor.

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Oh, Canada! As 1995 arrived, the NHL was a fading memory - another failed business shuttered by gross mismanagement and needless labor strife.

But the youngsters played on. At the world junior hockey championships in Alberta, star-studded Team Canada steamrolled to the title. Several idled NHL players joined the national-team lineups, giving the host team a monstrous advantage.

Blues defensive prospect Jamie Rivers scored the winning goal in Canada's 7-5 victory over the Czech Republic before 19,465 fans Saturday night in Calgary.

Rivers, the 63rd overall pick in the 1993 draft, gathered a rebounding puck off the back boards and beat goaltender Michal Marik to the far side.

"It's one of those plays where you're a hero or a zero," said Rivers, who is starring this season for Sudbury in the Ontario Hockey League. "It was like slow motion. …

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