• Want to receive periodic updates from the Inkspot? Sign up for our newsletter highlighting the latest headlines, top stories and more here
Whatever you are interested in, we've got it covered.


Whatever you are interested in, we've got it covered.


Whatever you are interested in, we've got it covered.


Bloomington Bison bring hockey back to Grossinger Motors Arena

Bison can usher in new era of community hockey interest
The Bison logo, according to the Jan. 24 press release “pay[s] homage to the rich history of the Bloomington-Normal community… inspired by former President Lincoln and … Route 66.” One thing Bloomington has struggled to establish is a rich hockey history. Image Courtesy: Bloomington Bison

Hockey returns to Grossinger Motors Arena for the 2024-25 East Coast Hockey League season, as the ECHL announced expansion team The Bloomington Bison. 

The upstart Bison is the ECHL’s 30th franchise, joining hockey’s “premier developmental league.” 

The Bison are the fifth franchise to take the ice at Grossinger since the arena opened in 2006, following the PrairieThunder, the Blaze, the Thunder and the Central Illinois Flying Aces, who last laced up their skates in 2019.

According to the leasing agreement between the city, which owns the arena, and hockey team, the City of Bloomington expects 2,200 fans to attend games; in their final season, the Flying Aces averaged 600 fans a game.

Zoran Rajcic, the vice president of the Flying Aces’ parent company, CSH International Inc., told WGLT in 2019 that the failure to establish hockey in the Twin Cities was “because the market just hasn’t bought into the product.”

Peoria, by comparison, has been home to some iteration of Peoria Rivermen hockey since the early 1980s. 

But hockey’s struggle to find an audience isn’t unique to Bloomington. The NHL ranks last among the major U.S. sports leagues in national popularity. The NHL is valued at $625 million, roughly 5% of what the NFL makes through broadcast contracts alone. 

But the Bison won’t struggle to find a fan in Community’s Max Blumenshine. 

Blumenshine, a junior center for the McLean County Sharks youth hockey team, is “really excited” about semi-pro hockey’s return to town. 

Hockey, the junior said, is a sport that is really “under-appreciated,” something he attributes to its lack of visibility. 

“I think that football and baseball have bigger platforms,” Blumenshine said.

He isn’t wrong. A decade ago, now-defunct sports media outlets Deadspin and Sports Illustrated reported that ESPN devoted just 2.7% of its airtime to hockey coverage.

“If hockey had the same platform,” the junior said, “more people would like hockey.” 

In 2021, ESPN signed a seven-year streaming and media rights deal with the NHL, putting the sport back on the sports giant’s airwaves for the first time since 2004. 

This January, Barrett Sports Media reported a 40% increase in hockey viewership on the network over last year. 

Exposure is what got Blumenshine hooked on the sport. He spent his weekends attending Bloomington Thunder games; some of his best memories happened watching the players from behind the U.S. Cellular Coliseum’s plexiglass (Grossinger’s former name).   

Hockey is a family affair for the Blumenshines, as Max grew up watching his dad and older brother Aidan team up on the ice as coach and player. 

Now Aidan is a two-time NIHL champion, playing for the University of Missouri

It wasn’t titles that drew Max to the ice, it was watching his family bond over the sport and “want[ing] to be a part of that too.” 

And eventually, he was. Playing for his father, just as his brother did before him, is an experience he deeply appreciates. 

“When I was younger, I didn’t realize how special it was to have my dad as a coach,” Blumenshine said.

Looking back, that quality time with Dad, learning from him, watching him teach other “young men,” those are experiences Blumenshine wouldn’t trade anything for. 

But even without them, the junior would be a fan of the game. 

Why wouldn’t he? Hockey, Blumenshine said, is “fast paced, physical and the goals are exciting.” 

That excitement has been missing from Bloomington that the Bison can bring back. 

Jim Hallett, owner of the Bison, said in a statement that he’s “extremely excited to bring professional hockey to Bloomington and watch the sport as well as the community grow through this expansion.”  

Blumenshine sees the potential impact on the local hockey community, too. 

With the ECHL in town, “the hometown crowd,” Blumenshine said, “will get … more involved in Bloomington hockey.”

A big reason Bloomington’s past hockey teams have failed, Blumenshine said, was a lack of promotion. 

If the Bison can attract the youth, if they can find an audience in the “younger generation,” then success is possible, the junior said.

As the puck is set to drop on the first period of the 2024-25 ECHL season, Blumenshine and the area’s other hockey fans hope the Bison can learn from their predecessors and help usher in a new era of Bloomington hockey.

And avoid extinction.  

Donate to Inkspot
Our Goal

IF YOU SHARE THE INKSPOT'S PASSION for empowering Normal Community's aspiring journalists and equipping them with viable and valuable digital media skills, please consider contributing to our cause.
Your support plays a vital role in enabling the Inkspot to invest in top-tier equipment, maintain memberships in distinguished professional organizations such as the Journalism Education Association and National Scholastic Press Association, send our students to compete at state and national contests, and attend the National High School Journalism Convention.
Your generosity is the key to providing these students with a truly enriching educational experience. THANK YOU.

About the Contributor
Brantley Dumas II
Brantley Dumas II, Senior Staff Reporter
Brantley Dumas is a senior at Normal Community High School. He is the president Black Student Union and is on the varsity bowling team. He is a second-year Staff Reporter on the Inkspot. If I were to win a million dollars I would definitely pay for college, then buy all the shoes and clothes I could ever want. I enjoy fashion, making and listening to music and anime. So, if you like any of those we can probably be friends. My biggest pet peeve is when people chew too loud. Gross.
Donate to Inkspot
Our Goal