Ever since the Salt Lake Golden Eagles exited the Western Hockey League in 1974, they've been wishing San Diego could field a team to rejoin them, first in the Central League and later in the International League.
Thursday, that wish finally came true as the International Hockey League officially and unanimously accepted a San Diego entry to begin play in October.That action was taken during the first day of the IHL summer meetings in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"I go back to 1969," said Eagle general manager Mike Runge, who's been the team's public-address announcer almost since the Eagles began and who saw the old rivalry with San Diego in the WHL. "Just the logic of having geographical cities you can deal with, you got that good feeling. It's a big city, a major-league city," said Runge.
He is attending IHL meetings with Utah Jazz GM Tim Howells, representing team owner Larry H. Miller.
"It's a huge step up for the IHL," added Runge, noting San Diego's urban population is more than 2 million.
And a step for the Eagles, who will benefit econcomically from having "another partner in the West," Runge said.
The San Diego franchise will play at the Sports Arena, and its two representatives at Thursday's IHL meetings were Sports Arena president Vincent R. Ciruzzi and Sports Arena operator Harry Cooper.
As yet, the team has no nickname and no affiliation with a National Hockey League team, but it does already have a ticket hotline and has set a local press conference for next Friday.
IHL commissioner Tom Berry had said last week that the league might accept a new West-Coast member that had done considerable homework and would be ready to go - immediately if the league accepted it.
The move will give the Eagles two new playmates in the West Division, since the Kansas City Blades, also still without NHL affiliation, have been full league members for about a month. Phoenix is the other western club. A divisional alignment could also include Milwaukee, Indianapolis or Peoria in the West.
The added western teams should help the Eagles' financial situation since they won't have to pay their travel expenses. When the Eagles joined the IHL in 1984, they had to agree to pay travel and hotel costs for the older franchises in what was then an all-Midwest league. That rule remains in effect for Salt Lake, Phoenix, Kansas City and San Diego.
"It's money-saving for us," said Runge.
"I'm very happy for the IHL and very happy for Salt Lake.
"There's been a series of positive steps for us, beginning in February with Kansas City (joining the league) right on through the new arena," Runge said, referring to the downtown Salt Lake City arena being built by Miller.
Also Thursday, Fort Wayne Komets' owner David Welker requested a move of his franchise to Albany, N.Y. It would remain an IHL member. League bylaws say such a request must wait 24 hours before a decision can be made, so that was on the agenda for today's IHL sessions.