The Flames have announced it will be relocating its AHL affiliate from Glens Falls, NY to Stockton, CA, effective next season. However, unlike the last time the farm team was in the west, this time, it'll have immediate neighbours to play in the division.
Most of the Pacific Division is moving their affiliates to, well, the Pacific coast. Alongside Calgary, the Anaheim Ducks (Norfolk, VA), Edmonton Oilers (Oklahoma City, OK), Los Angeles Kings (Manchester, NH), and San Jose Sharks (Worcester, MA) are moving their farm teams to San Diego, Bakersfield, Ontario, and San Jose, respectively. It's the beginning of a new California division for the AHL (yes, Ontario is a place in California; it's about two hours north of San Diego).
Before moving to Glens Falls for this season, the Flames' AHL affiliate was in Abbotsford, BC. Abbotsford was a problem for a several reasons, including:
- They were put right in Canucks territory and heavily branded as the Flames affiliate, resulting in poor attendance and very little fan support.
- They spent most of their time on the road. That cuts heavily into practice time, which is not ideal for developing prospects.
With the Flames prospect moving to Sharks territory, point one is somewhat taken care of. The Sharks and Flames don't have the same level of rivalry the Canucks and Flames do. This point is even further alleviated if the Flames keep the Stockton Thunder brand (and they should, because it's awesome, although they may not be able to). It may be an advantage to not blatantly be the Flames' farm team affiliate.
As for point two - all that time on the road - while the team will still have to travel, their divisional rivals will be nearby. Flames prospects should be able to get a fair amount of practice time in, and the extremely lengthy road trips faced when they were making their home in Abbotsford will remain a thing of the past.
"[This is important] from a developmental standpoint," said Flames General Manager Brad Treliving. "This is a pure development league. That was the biggest thing for us: how can we get a better development model?"
And Treliving is very, very aware of the problems a western team faces with an eastern affiliate, indirectly referring to Joni Ortio's hellish travel ordeal when called up just a few weeks ago. Ortio was stranded in Chicago and forced to reroute through Toronto and Winnipeg before finally arriving in Calgary just in time to back up a game. He then had very little practice time before starting the second of a back-to-back game, the one in which he earned his first NHL career shutout. It worked out well, but certainly wasn't an ideal situation, and it isn't an ideal situation for any western team.
By relocating to Stockton, Flames prospects won't have quite as easy a travel time as they did in Abbotsford, but certainly less chaotic than with Glens Falls. The nearest international airport is in Sacramento, which is just under an hour's drive away. From there, it's a four and a half hour direct flight to Calgary. It's not as convenient, but it's definitely not difficult. Treliving stressed that it was a priority to make players more accessible, and to have them in the same time zone.
So all in all, this is a great move for Flames prospects. It takes the advantages Abbotsford had with active steps in place to reduce what made things go wrong in the first place.
On a personal note, one of my best friends is a Stockton Thunder season ticket holder, and I had the pleasure of going to a game with her back at the start of the 2013-14 season. Not even 10 years old yet, Stockton Arena, with a capacity of 12,000, is an excellent place to watch hockey. The game I attended was great: perfect sight lines (didn't look like there was a bad seat in the house), and a loud and into-it crowd. Attendance is down a bit this season due to really poor play - the Thunder are currently last in the Pacific Division by 11 points, and the team up on them still has three games in hand - but this is definitely a market that will support its team.
And what of Adirondack, a hockey town for decades? They won't be without, as Adirondack is expected to join the ECHL. "We recognize there are markets today that are losing a team. That's a difficult thing," said Treliving, a recent member of the Arizona Coyotes front office and no stranger to relocation rumours. He thanked the people of Glens Falls, and we're all wishing you guys well.