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Bloomington Thunder Hockey Team May Change Name For Coming Season

Hockey player on skates
Bloomington Thunder
The Bloomington Thunder hockey team is an anchor tenant at the newly renamed Grossinger Motors Arena in downtown Bloomington.

Bloomington’s hockey fans may need to buy some new jerseys this fall.

The Bloomington Thunder is considering changing its name for the new season that begins Oct. 7. An announcement could come as soon as next week, said chief operating officer Brendan Kelly.

One possible name is the Central Illinois Flying Aces. When asked about that name, Kelly declined to say if it was under consideration. However, the domain name ciflyingaces.com was registered in Kelly's name on July 11, records show. A second team official is also listed on the domain registration.

Kelly said it’s possible that the name may remain the same for another season and change next year. But it’s part of a larger plan to raise attendance and better educate the Bloomington-Normal community on the team and the league it plays in, Kelly said.

"We're discussing possibly coming out with a new identity to just strengthen our brand and really tell who we are."

“We’re discussing possibly coming out with a new identity to just strengthen our brand and really tell who we are,” Kelly told GLT. “That’s potentially on the table for this year or next.”

If it’s changed, it will be the fourth hockey team name in Bloomington since the city-owned Grossinger Motors Arena (formerly the U.S. Cellular Coliseum) opened in 2006. The team was originally called the Bloomington PrairieThunder, then the Blaze in 2011, and now the Thunder.

But unlike the previous professional teams, the current Thunder team plays in the USHL, the top junior league in the country. The league produces NHL draft picks and elite college talent. At the start of the 2016-17 season, there were 108 active NHL players who were USHL alumni.

Some in the community don’t know that, and a new identity could help distinguish the team and draw more fans to games, Kelly said. Their primary goal this next season is to raise attendance.

“It truly identifies our organization for what we are and who we are. We took on the name of the previous team that was here in the SPHL. We’re a completely different experience, with a different ownership group,” Kelly said. “We surveyed people, we talked to fans and businesses, and we realized that it’s time to start discussing a change and possibly come out with a fresh look.”

Kelly said he’s not worried about name-change fatigue among local hockey fans. (The Thunder name is also used by a travel youth hockey program based in Bloomington.)

“With a strong marketing plan and better visibility in the community, I think fans will embrace it and appreciate it long-term. There’s been a lot of confusion about what league this is, what team this is, because of multiple teams being here. This is our way to truly identify ourselves,” he said.

The team’s first home game at Grossinger Motors Arena is Oct. 13.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the USHL is the top junior league in the country, not the top amateur league.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.