Canucks Farm Team 4,500 KM Closer
The instant it was spotted that Utica Comets manager Robert Esche had a copyright application in for the Utica Devils, it was over. In truth, it was pretty much over from the start, but the parting is amicable.
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The Canucks’ scrambled to get the newly-purchased Peoria Rivermen a home back in 2013. Esche was looking to prove Utica was a valid destination for an AHL team. To that end, they signed a five-year deal and never looked back. The town hadn’t had an AHL team since the Utica Devils left 20 years earlier. The Devils’ success was… limited, both on and off the ice. But the region has a long history of hockey, and the AHL’s return was an unequivocal success. They topped 200 straight sellouts and much of that can be laid at the feet of Esche. Finding a replacement for the Canucks wasn’t difficult.
It’s a bit tougher to judge how well the team did on the ice, as the Canucks had graduated or traded a lot of players and picks to compete for the Stanley Cup. This season alone, however, has seen Olli Juolevi, Jalen Chatfield, and Kole Lind all debut with the big club after spending a season or more on the farm. It seems a matter of time before Jonah Gadjovich gets his shot as well. Add to that previous graduates Zack MacEwen, Adam Gaudette, and Michael Dipietro and the list isn’t too bad. The coaching staff – however long they remain with the team – started there as well.
The Mohawk Valley Garden group is independent of the NHL, so they operate the team. The Canucks, and now the New Jersey Devils, hire and pay the salaries of their players and coaches. The “Comets” name is going to remain in Utica for continuity, though undoubtedly the colours are changing to more closely match their new parent club.
There were rumours that the Canucks’ farm club would come to Abbotsford eight years ago when they bought the Rivermen. They could even keep the name, as the Fraser River runs right through the town. Unfortunately for all concerned, the Calgary Flames were in place and wouldn’t leave for another year, despite the Abbotsford Heat being a financial failure. The town lost millions of dollars, and they and the AHL were hesitant to try again.
A desire for the one NHL team that made sense wasn’t quenched by the bad experience, though. Vancouver clearly had this in mind when they renewed their deal with Utica to include an “out” clause at years two and four. This is Year Four coming up, and they’re out. The population of the Abbotsford region has increased since then, and not being the farm club to your local NHL team’s biggest rival should help ticket sales as well. The second try is bound to be more successful, what with learning from the past and all that. What else are first marriages for, after all?
The 7,000 seat Abbotsford Centre will be 12 years old on May 10th, and this is one way to celebrate it! Being that young means it won’t need any major financial investments for at least a decade. Merchandising sales, tied-in promotions, and media interest are all strong advantages with this move. It’s hard to see much risk here, and frankly the Canucks can use some good news this year.
VANCOUVER, BC – FEBRUARY 28: Vancouver Canucks General Manager Jim Benning speaks to the media after a game between against the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings. Benning was discussing the recent trades of Vancouver Canucks Left Wing Alexandre Burrows (14) and Vancouver Canucks Right Wing Jannik Hansen (36). February 28, 2017, at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC. (Photo by Bob Frid/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)