In a rather surprising turn of events, Phoenix decided not to enter the International Hockey League for the coming season but did leave its $20,000 franchise deposit in the IHL kitty toward the 1989-90 season, and other IHL owners bent over backward to compensate the Salt Lake Golden Eagles and Colorado Rangers, who were counting on the financial help of another West Division team, during the league's annual summer meetings in Montreal Thursday and Friday.
Golden Eagle co-owner Art Teece said by telephone Friday afternoon that he didn't learn until late Wednesday night that something might be amiss with the Phoenix plan to join the league, and discussion Thursday spilled over until Friday on the matter. It was finally decided that Phoenix's application and money will remain with the league as prospective owner Lyle Abraham works toward getting a National Hockey League affiliation for the '89-90 season.Because Phoenix was unable to get a working agreement for the 1988-89 season, it chose to not operate.
Menahwile, the IHL approved the transfer of ownership of the Indianapolis franchise from Larry Woods, who suspended operations last summer, to Chicago businessman Horn Chen, and will allow the Indianapolis franchise to resume opeations for the coming season. The team will play at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
That will give the IHL 10 teams, as the league voted not to accept Erie, Pa., as a member because of several teams' objections to added travel distances in the East Division.
The league will thus consist of two divisions, the Eagles in the West with Colorado, Peoria, Milwaukee and Indianapolis, and the East Division consisting of Muskegon, Flint, Fort Wayne, Saginaw and Kalamazoo.
Milwaukee has become the No. 1 farm club of the Vancouver Canucks, with a one-year contract, giving the league seven No. 1 NHL affiliations. Indianapolis will operate as an independent, as will Flint and Fort Wayne, as it now stands. Indianapolis will have a secondary working agreement with the New York Islanders, whose top team is in Springfield, Mass. The Islanders will send perhaps six players to Indianapolis.
Both Teece and Eagle general manager Marc Amicone were happy with the way the other league owners treated them regarding scheduling for the coming season, because the emphasis will be placed on economical travel rather than a balanced schedule or on the seniority system that allowed the older teams to have preference for weekend dates.
The Eagles will play teams in their division a set number of times, but play against teams in the East will be determined by availability and financial practicality. The Eagles may play some East teams only once or twice and may play other East teams numerous times. Each club will submit 25 preferred dates. After that, the schedules will be formulated upon availability.
In past scheduling, the Eagles could play in Saginaw one night and then be made to bypass neighboring Flint because they'd already played the Spirits the alloted number of times and be sent to Fort Wayne or someplace further to fill the quota. If Fort Wayne were already scheduled, the Eagles were made to wait until a date was open. This way, they'd go ahead and play Flint again, if that was the economical thing to do, and they'd avoid extra travel and hotel bills.
"There were always some teams who'd help out and give us a date here and there," said Amicone, "but there's a lot more willingness to cooperate now.
"I don't think this would have happened as easily," he speculated, "if Phoenix was in." That's because another West Division team, to which the Eagles wouldn't have had to pay a travel subsidy, would have been a big financial help. Without that, other league owners relented on the schedule to help their Westernmost leaguemates.
"They catered to us a lot more as far as the schedule to help out with expenses," said Teece. "I feel good about that."
EAGLE NOTES - Other changes for the league include an unlimited regular-season roster size, something NHL teams pushed for their affiliates; a limit of two on the number of players who can be brought in from the American League, NHL or Europe at the end of the season to keep teams from loading up for the playoffs; and a propososal for all-star games against the AHL in 1989 and 1990. One game would be in Hershey, Pa., of the AHL, and the other in Fort Wayne, Ind., of the IHL. The IHL governors also voted to keep the league's headquarters in Indianapolis next season and to retain N.R. "Bud" Poile as commissioner, and it granted a request by its Toledo franchise to suspend its operations for the third straight season.