VANCOUVER - Having been rebuffed in an attempt to move their newly purchased AHL franchise to Abbotsford, the Vancouver Canucks are exploring the possibility of keeping their farm team in Peoria, Ill.
Assistant general manager Laurence Gilman and chief operating officer Victor de Bonis spent Tuesday in Peoria, where they met with officials of the Rivermen franchise.
"We're exploring our options," Gilman said. "Out of respect for Peoria, which has a long history with minor-league hockey, we're discussing the possibility of keeping the team here but we're still at the fact-finding stage. There are other options."
Gilman and de Bonis have spent the last week exploring other potential locations for the Rivermen, whose contract with Peoria is up. The Canucks recently purchased the franchise from the St. Louis Blues and are ending their affiliation with the Chicago Wolves. Gilman would not disclose what other locations the Canucks are considering.
He also refused to comment on the failure to strike a deal with the City of Abbotsford. But it seems apparent the Canucks and the City of Abbotsford could not agree who should compensate the Calgary Flames for walking away from the sweetheart lease deal the Flames have with the city for their Abbotsford Heat franchise.
The Rivermen franchise has a long history in Peoria and there was plenty of emotion when the team played what could be its final game on Sunday.
Longtime hockey writer Dave Eminian captured some of the colour in his game story in the Peoria Journal-Star: "One minute remaining in Peoria Rivermen hockey," longtime public address announcer B.J. Stone signaled as the clock wound down on a 3-0 loss to the Milwaukee Admirals.
"And with that, the 4,302 in attendance rose and gave their team an ovation to the final horn.
"They were still standing two hours and 27 minutes after the game had ended -- and with it Peoria's AHL era, as well as possibly its pro hockey era, after the Blues sale of the Rivermen to the Vancouver Canucks.
"Long lines of fans waited to get onto the ice to greet the players, get autographs, take pictures, say goodbye to a franchise that operated here continuously for 31 years."
Who knows, maybe there will be a Year 32.
BIEKSA HITS THE ICE: The Canucks weren't saying much, but it was certainly an encouraging sign that defenceman Kevin Bieksa skated with skills coach Glenn Carnegie before Tuesday's optional practice.
Associate coach Rick Bowness described Bieksa as "day to day" but would offer no other comment. Bieksa has missed the last four games with what the team says is a lower-body injury.
FEELING BETTER: Fellow defenceman Keith Ballard, who hurt his back in Saturday night's game against Detroit, skated for about 15 minutes in Tuesday's practice.
"I am feeling better today and skated for probably 15 minutes or so just to give it a try," Ballard said. "I didn't want to tax it too much, but just to get moving a little bit. Today has been the best day."
Ballard's goal is obviously to be ready for the playoffs.
"It's a type of injury where if you are not ready and you try to play it is going to get worse. So right now my goal is just to get healthy."
Ballard's back tightened up after a fight with Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader.
ODD MAN OUT: Ryan Kesler's move to right wing has left Dale Weise the odd man out. Weise was a healthy scratch on Monday night and associate coach Rick Bowness said he is simply the victim of a numbers game.
"He sat because we wanted to try Ryan on right wing," Bowness said. "You have Ryan Kesler, you have got Jannik (Hansen) and you have got Zack (Kassian). We wanted to get Tom Sestito back into the game and it becomes more of a numbers game more than anything he has or hasn't done. That's what we wanted to look at last night and we'll go from there."
Weise knows he now must wait for his chance to get back into the lineup.
"It's obviously tough to sit out any time," he said. "Nobody wants to sit in the stands while everyone else is playing and we are coming down the stretch here, but the team played unbelievable yesterday so you have to be happy."
LUONGO SWAN-SONG?: Weise, Kassian, Sestito, Ballard, Steve Pinizzotto, Derek Joslin, Cam Barker and Roberto Luongo were the only Canucks to skate during Tuesday's optional practice.
Luongo said he does not know if he will get one of the final two starts of the regular season. Some have suggested Luongo could get the start Thursday against the Ducks and depending on what happens in the playoffs and off-season, that could be his final game at Rogers Arena.
"It doesn't matter either way," Luongo said. "I am here right now and there's still a lot of hockey left to be played. Personally, I don't see it that way and I'm not really thinking of something like that. My focus and the team's focus is on playing these last two games and winning and heading into the playoffs. It's a long haul and things happen, so you never know what the future holds."
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