One Canadian city’s divorce with its minor league hockey franchise has created a chance for the team relocate to Glens Falls.
Officials with the city of Abbottsford in British Columbia announced Tuesday they have discontinued a 10-year contract with the Heat, the minor league affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames. The announcement means the organization will need to relocate before the 2014-2015 season and could potentially land at the Glens Falls Civic Center, which was toured by several members of the Flames’ front office last month.
City officials haven’t, however, heard anything new from the Flames over the past two weeks and are uncertain of their plans. Dan Hall, a city councilman-at-large, said the Heat represent the last logical hope for Glens Falls to land an American Hockey League franchise before next season. But he remains skeptical of the chances.
“At this point, we think we’ve exhausted our options,” he said. “There’s really no teams moving other than Abbottsford. We’re just going to keep our fingers crossed.”
Glens Falls Mayor Jack Diamond was out of the city and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Having missed the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, the Phantoms, the team that now plays in Glens Falls, have one more home game at the Civic Center before embarking on their planned move to Allentown, Pa., before next season. The team set up temporary residence in Glens Falls starting with the 2009-2010 season in anticipation of a $272 million arena complex being constructed in Allentown.
Now ranked 21st in attendance among 30 teams, the Phantoms still sell an average 4,150 seats per game at the 4,794-seat Civic Center. Even with a losing record, Adirondack’s attendance was still vastly better than the Heat, which are ranked second-worst in the AHL.
With an average of about 3,000 fans per game, the playoff-bound Heat rarely filled even half of the 7,000-seat Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre. An agreement with the city — 66 miles southeast of Vancouver — had Abbottsford taxpayers subsidizing the Heat with hundreds of thousands of dollars annually whenever the team failed to make revenue benchmarks.
The Heat were also hampered by travel costs associated with the team’s remote location, which was more than 1,500 miles away from its nearest opponent in Oklahoma. And the fan base in Abbottsford never seemed to adopt the team as its own.
“Our aims were simple, to establish a home in the American Hockey League where we could develop our younger players in a strong community environment,” Flames President Ken King said in a released statement. “The economics did not turn out the way any of us intended, despite the tremendous efforts of many men and women who made it their mission to convert the allegiances of local hockey fans, at least at the American Hockey League level, to the Heat.”
King indicated the Flames have a plan in place for next year and that “several opportunities exist” for the Heat. He said an announcement of the new location “will be made in due course.”
Heat President Ryan Walter declined to comment on the team’s future.
“This may be better coming from the Calgary Flames,” he said in an email.
Oddly enough, the Heat franchise once took up residence in New York during the late 1980s and 1990s. The team was then known as the Utica Devils and was the affiliate of the New Jersey Devils before being purchased by the Flames and moved to Nebraska in 1993.
The Heat roster now features Josh Jooris, a former Union College forward who signed with the Flames last year. The team is ranked sixth in the Western Division.
Hall said Glens Falls would welcome the Heat with open arms. But given the tenor of their conversation with city officials, he didn’t want to read too deeply into their departure from Abbottsford.
“We’re always listening to whatever they want to propose,” he said.