PEORIA, ILLINOIS—Michael Laidley and his teammates on the Peoria Rivermen (Illinois) hockey team are the 2022 Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) champions!
And while Mr. Laidley had to battle several injuries this season, he said this may have been the most enjoyable year of his hockey career. “This year was the most fun I have had playing hockey. Every day going to the rink was a blast. We had a great group of guys and right from the start, you could see there was a great team culture and relationship. Every day was fun.”
“Absolutely, it’s what you look for at the beginning of the year (a championship), and when all the hard work we put in was capped off with a championship? It was great,” said Mr. Laidley.
“It was pretty exciting,” stated Beryl Laidley (also speaking on behalf of her husband Shane) on their son being on the championship team. “They won the President’s Cup on Tuesday night.” The Rivermen were able to lift the President’s Cup after notching the SPHL championship with a comeback, 3-2 overtime win against the Roanoke Rail Yard Dogs, winning the series in game four of the best of five series at Roanoke (Virginia).
Last season, Mr. Laidley played for a team in Pensacola, Florida. “I played four games for Pensacola and they put me on waivers.”
“I had met Alec Hagaman (the Peoria team captain) when I was in Florida, and he heard about my situation and got me in touch with the coach of his team, Jean-Guy Trudel, telling him about me and we were introduced and he asked if I wanted to join the team,” said Mr. Laidley.
“Yes, I kind of had to battle a few things along the way this year,” said Mr. Laidley. In his first game of the season, he suffered a concussion and was out of play for quite a while. Then he separated a shoulder and was out for another four weeks. He also had a bout with COVID-19 during the season.
“I was lucky enough to be able to come back to play, especially for the playoffs,” said Mr. Laidley.
After enjoying a good regular season, the Rivermen started the post season with a first-round series against Pensacola. The Rivermen won the best two out of three series that went to the maximum three games, then matched that, beating Quad City in the second round.
The final series was a best three of five, with Peoria winning in four games.
“We would have loved to go the final game to see Michael and his team play,” said Ms. Laidley. “We went down to Peoria the last weekend before the playoffs started. So we were able to see two games then.”
“The team travelled home yesterday (last Wednesday) on a bus from Roanoke to Peoria, a 10-hour trip, then had a bit of a gathering at their home arena, then went to the team captain’s house for another gathering,” said Ms. Laidley.
“Peoria is a great city, and they love their hockey,” Michael Laidley told The Expositor. “The fans and the people in the city are so supportive of the hockey team.”
This is the first championship for the Rivermen team in 22 years. The Peoria team is 40 years old. It is the first championship the team has won since the 1999-2000 team took the Kelly Cup in the ECHL.
Peoria is believed to be the first city to have a championship team in all three levels of pro minor hockey league hockey; the Triple-A IHL, the Double-A ECHL and the Single-A SPHL.
A victory parade was held for the team through downtown Peoria last Friday, ending at the team’s home rink, Carver Arena, to share the President’s Cup.
Mr. Laidley pointed out that winning a hockey championship is not the only exciting news he has had this year. “My girlfriend and I are expecting a baby boy the first week in August,” he told The Expositor.
As for continuing his hockey career Mr. Laidley said, “I definitely don’t want to say that I will continue playing or not. I will be keeping my options open. You never know, but if this was my last year it was a pretty good way to finish, with a championship.”