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The Salt Lake Golden Eagle season is underway. Already the Eagles are in the heat of battle for post season playoff honors. So, too, are eight other teams in the league.

Once again the October-to-April International Hockey League is better and stronger. And, as usual, there have been some changes since the last puck was dropped back in May.Saginaw has taken a leave of absence from the league for one season with hopes of reorganizing for the future, and the Denver Rangers disbanded during the off-season.

On the flip side, the Roadrunners have risen. Phoenix made its debut in the IHL last week under the ownership of Edmonton businessman Lyle Abraham. Former Western Hockey League standout Adam Keller will be general manager of the new club.

The new Roadrunners - playing out of Veterans Memorial Coliseum on the Arizona State Fairgrounds, home of Phoenix hockey entries in the WHL and Central Hockey League - will go as an independent team this year. Player for the Roadrunners will come from Los Angeles, Edmonton and Buffalo.

Milwaukee returns as a Golden Eagle rival in the West Division, and continues to be affiliated with Vancouver. The Admirals have a new coach this year in Ron Lapointe, a former Quebec Nordiques coach. He stepped in after Rick Ley took over the Hartford Whalers head position.

Peoria is back in the West, with ex-Eagle mentor Wayne Thomas returning as coach. There are also reports floating about of a new five-year working agreement between the Rivermen and the NHL team, the St. Louis Blues.

The Turner Cup champions, the Muskegon Luberjacks, will have the same strong Pittsburgh Penguins affiliation and the same coaching of Blair MacDonald and about the same powerful team.

Fort Wayne has elevated last year's player/coach Al Sims to the head job after Rob Laird took a coaching job with Washington. The Komets will continue to work as an independent, with player help from Washington and Winnipeg.

The Kalamazoo Wings remain the top affiliate of the Minnesota North Stars. The North Stars, in fact, train in the Wings stadium during the preseason. John Marks will return as coach of the Wings.

There is a change in Indianapolis. The Ice signed a five-year player agreement with the Chicago Blackhawks and added on a new coach, Darryl Sutter. The Blackhawks, and Sutter, worked with Saginaw last season while the Ice were feeling their way around the IHL as an independent.

In Flint, the New York Rangers have brought their players and their logo to the Spirits. Also, they've named former junior-A league coach Paul Theriaultto guide the Ranger farm club.

Also new to the IHL is president/commission Tom Berry, who took over the reins from Bud Poile. Berry, a former part owner in the Indianapolis team, has been with the league as director of officiating for the past several seasons.