The AHL lost yet another franchise on Friday 2nd May 2014, when the Abbotsford Heat played their final game in losing 5-3 to the Grand Rapids Griffins in the first round of the Calder Cup.
It’s been a tough existence for the Heat who were the only AHL team in the Pacific time zone.
The Calgary Flames moved their affiliate to BC in 2009 and their first game as the Abbotsford Heat was played on October 9th that year.
There was almost an inevitably this was going to be their last season, when talks between the franchise and the Vancouver organisation broke down in the summer, as it looked like Calgary and the Canucks would swap affiliates. In my mind it seemed like the perfect fit but Vancouver chose to buy out the Peoria Riverman franchise and relocated it to Utica.
Money talks and the city of Abbotsford terminated the contract with the Abbotsford Heat on April 15th 2014 after years as a loss making venture. The National Post reported the taxpayers of Abbotsford had to pay over a million dollars a year to see the team through the first three season while it’s costing $5.5 million to terminate this deal.
It’s never fun to see a community lose it’s hockey team, although Abbotsford was the second worst attended AHL side this season, barely averaging 3000 patrons per game.
It’s not just a hockey team that the city may be losing as the home venue of the Heat, Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre, relied heavily on the income that the AHL team brought, and it’s reported that if another team cannot be find to replace them at some level, then the building may not survive for much longer.
The Calgary organisation seem to be favouring moving the franchise to Glen Falls, NY.
Now Glen Falls already has a hockey team in the Adirondack Phantoms, but Philadelphia are moving that team to Allentown, PA for the start of the 2014/15 season and have renamed the team as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
If the move happens, Calgary’s affiliate will now be 4,000km from them instead of the 900km when the team was based in Abbotsford. A move that goes against the grain of what most teams are trying to do in moving their AHL franchise closer to them, with cutting costs just one of the benefits.
The Adirondack Phantoms franchise has hardly been a success in it’s short life.
An average attendance of around 4,000 and never making the playoffs in their five years.
The aforementioned factors make this a strange fit from the outside looking in, but we’ll know more later this week as the rumour mill is suggesting there will some form of announcement.
It always seemed a far from ideal situation having Calgary’s affiliate so close to Vancouver, around an hour’s drive from Abbotsford to downtown Vancouver. The Calgary Flames are pretty much despised in Vancouver so it’s perhaps not surprising that the team struggled to garner much support despite relative success on the ice (three out of five season in the playoffs) with a decent team and good young prospects.
With Vancouver committed to Utica for the time being, the future looks uncertain for hockey in Abbotsford but these things tend to have a funny way of sorting themselves out.
October 9, 2009 – May 2, 2014