Hockey future: AHL out ECHL in for GF

By Gordon Woodworth, Chronicle News Editor

As expected, the Calgary Flames will move their American Hockey League team from Glens Falls to Stockton, California, and will replace it at the Civic Center with an ECHL team they are now buying.

The AHL will announce its new five-team western pod in a press conference in California today, Thursday, Jan. 29, sources said.

A 10 a.m. press conference is expected on Friday, Jan. 30, at Heritage Hall to announce that Calgary and the Civic Center Coalition have signed a long-term lease — three years, with options for two more years, and no outs, I’m told — for Calgary’s East Coast Hockey League team here.

I’m told ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna will be here.

There’s a chance the team name could remain the Adirondack Flames. But there’s a chance it could change, too. That was all being discussed this week.

Manchester, N.H. is also losing its AHL team and getting an ECHL team. Manchester and Glens Falls will join existing ECHL teams in Elmira and Reading, Pa., to form a mini-pod in the Northeast.

San Jose is leaving Worcester, Mass., which could be left without a team. Word is Worcester wants another AHL team, but there’s no guarantee that will happen.

Here’s my take: This is a dramatic sea change in the world of professional hockey, and it’s being driven by the National Hockey League. The NHL teams out west told the AHL that it wants its affiliates closer. The AHL is making it happen.

There is mounting pressure on the Phoenix Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche to buy AHL teams and move them closer.

Who’s available? Springfield, Mass., and Portland, Maine, possibly. That could leave those buildings looking for a team, too.

Also, the NHL is becoming more of a presence in the ECHL, with several teams represented at the league meetings in Orlando last week. That’s a good thing.

The ECHL is a viable, improving league. It’s far better than the now-defunct United Hockey League, which we had with the IceHawks and the Frostbite.

For Glens Falls to get another team is huge. Calgary could have put its new ECHL team anywhere. It made more sense to put it in California, near Stockton.

But Calgary loves Glens Falls. They love how the fans have embraced the Flames. And they decided that the positives vastly outweigh the negatives of distance and travel. Plus, word is the City has applied for $4.1-million in state funding for upgrades to the Civic Center. The request includes new lights, new doors, heat downstairs, new glass in the rink and even a new Zamboni, “a complete facelift for the building,” as Mayor Jack Diamond told me.

Having a pro hockey team here is a lot better than not having one here. And trust me, there will be several AHL markets with empty arenas in the coming years. It’s nice that Glens Falls won’t be one of them.

Downtown would be mighty quiet without hockey here, and the Coalition knows that. They were determined to make this happen, and luckily for them they had a willing dance partner in Calgary Flames president Brian Burke.

And the ECHL will likely continue to expand its Northeast footprint. The Devils are likely to leave Albany, either next year or the year after, for Bridgeport, Conn., after the Islanders move their AHL team to Nassau Coliseum. The Times Union Center could be another ECHL landing spot, creating a nice rivalry with the Glens Falls team.

Worcester could also be a possible ECHL city, and don’t be surprised if Vancouver pulls out of Utica in the next five years, leaving that renovated building available.

Copyright © 2015 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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