Why A Return to Abbotsford Would Make Sense…for Seattle’s AHL Affiliate
By Merrick Parnell
@Merk8989 on Twitter
An American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate is a major component to any of the existing teams in the National Hockey League (NHL) teams. The AHL serves as hockey’s “AAA” farm system and it’s often a player’s last stop before the NHL. The AHL as a whole is crucial for the team’s development and success and allows the parent club to extend their fan base to another area via their farm team.
Soon, the as-yet-unnamed Seattle NHL franchise will need to address the location of their AHL affiliate team. The AHL will most likely expand to accommodate another NHL Team just as it did for Vegas recently, but the question of “where will this team be located?” remains.
Ideally, the AHL club would be located in the Pacific Northwest region. Portland, Oregon, and Spokane, Washington have been thrown into the mix, as they should be, but I think Abbotsford, B.C would also serve as a great location, and here’s why.
Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada is about three hours North of Seattle in the Fraser Valley. In 2009, the Abbotsford Events Centre, a sparkling new and modern arena, opened. The arena would be a venue for premier entertainment and the home of the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat, the affiliate of the NHL’s Calgary Flames. The Heat would play until 2014 before being relocated to Glen Falls, New York to be the Adirondack Flames.
Despite the struggles that lead to relocation for the Heat, I am optimistic that an AHL Seattle Affiliate could work in Abbotsford due to several factors.
Proximity to the “Parent Club”
As mentioned, Seattle is just three hours away, down the I-5, in the same Geographic area. The Abbotsford AHL team could draw from the Seattle Fanbase in Northern Washington, as well as parts of the Lower Mainland Of British Columbia (originally the Heat had trouble with this due to representing the Calgary Flames, as they found that the fan base was very pro-Vancouver Canucks, a longtime Flames rival). Bellingham, WA is the largest northern Washington City, and the surrounding area (and rabid hockey community) could quickly make the quick and easy jaunt into the Fraser Valley.
Part of the Heat’s troubles in Abbotsford was that they were the most Western AHL team. Their closest competition was in Oklahoma City. However, since then, the AHL now has a Pacific Division made up of groups in, California, Arizona, and Colorado.
The Arena could work well for AHL hockey again, plus an existing arena is more attractive than having to build one. It can seat 7,000+ fans, and with it being relatively new, it has a lot of modern amenities and services. The location of the arena could also be beneficial.
Demographics and Location
Abbotsford has a population of just over 141,000 which gives them the community to support an AHL team. Plus the surrounding Fraser Valley area could contribute even more. Also, Abbotsford is about an hour away from Vancouver. However, traffic can also make that journey a lot longer. Plus, going to Vancouver for games is expensive once you add the food, gas and parking costs.
Fans in the Fraser Valley would not have to make the long trip to the city to watch some high-level hockey, and fans in the area have supported a similar move once before when the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants moved from Vancouver to Langley to serve Valley fans.
Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley provides an excellent opportunity for a Seattle AHL Affiliate team. The location, population and nearly brand new arena all are attractive factors and ones that should be considered by NHL Seattle for their farm team.