SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A determined hockey fan has garnered waves of support by starting an initiative to bring a minor league hockey team to Springfield, Missouri.
After the St. Louis Blues’ 2021 home opener, Caleb Ruggeri and a friend discussed the hockey community around Springfield. Ruggeri says the St. Louis Blues’ 2019 Stanley Cup win brought a considerable amount of new hockey interest to the area.
The growing hockey culture lit a spark inside of Ruggeri and drove him to start a petition to bring a minor league team to Springfield. He surpassed his initial goal of 500 signatures within two months and is now looking for 1,000 more.
Ruggeri told The Heartlander that he has already received support from Missouri State Rep. Craig Fishel, Springfield Mayor Ken McClure, Jordan Valley Ice Park and the Greene County Park Board.
The current goal is to attract the East Coast Hockey League to bring a team to Springfield. The ECHL is the third-most recognized hockey organization in the United States behind the American Hockey League (AHL) and National Hockey League (NHL).
The ECHL has an agreement with the NHL to sign and prepare upcoming players within their minor league facilities. The NHL also sends players to ECHL teams for rehabilitation purposes, similar to how the Springfield Cardinals rehab St. Louis Cardinals players throughout the season.
“Not every NHL team has an affiliate, including the St. Louis Blues,” Ruggeri said. “It would make a really good investment to where we could have a possibility to bring in players who could eventually rise to that level.”
Currently, the ECHL has three other teams within the Springfield vicinity: the Kansas City Mavericks out of Independence, Tulsa Oilers and Wichita Thunder.
According to Ruggeri, the only foreseen roadblock is the seating capacity at Jordan Valley Ice Park. The park seats approximately 3,000 fans, while standard ECHL arenas usually seat 4,000 or more.
“Beyond that, it’s a very good facility and it just needs a little love and care,” Ruggeri said.
Jordan Valley Ice Park also hosts the Missouri State Ice Bears, which has increased hockey fandom around the Ozarks in recent years as they are consistently ranked in the top 15 teams in the nation.
“The Ice Bears are awesome,” Ruggeri said. “I love Missouri State Hockey, but it would be kind of nice if we could have something a little more permanent.”
The Greene County Park Board has called a meeting with Ruggeri on Monday to discuss the formation of a committee to attract the ECHL’s attention and discuss potential financing. According to Ruggeri, the ECHL’s expansion team fee is approximately $1.5 million.
Based on statistics from the new team being formed in Savannah, Georgia, the minimum pay for a rookie player is $500 per week, and veterans are paid $540 per week. Estimated total costs to keep a minor league team can range from $2 million to $4 million per year.