No longer rumor, but fact - professional hockey will once again be on display in New York's Mohawk Valley. An American Hockey League affiliate will be in operation for the 2013-2014 season. The Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League's western conference will be developing their talent in the Utica Memorial Auditorium. Utica last had an AHL team during the 1992-'93 seasson , the final season of the New Jersey Devils six-season run at the Aud.
Here's what we do know, according to a reliable source. A 10-year deal has been struck with the Flames. There had been discussion in previous months that an AHL affiliate could be relocated to Utica, but not until the 2014-'15 season, due to scheduling issues. As far as any opt-out clause in the deal, I don't know for sure if or when one has been added. However, you would think an escape route, for both parties ( local operators and the Flames ) would/should want one. 10 years is infinity and beyond in any relationship.
A lobbying firm in Albany is involved with those locally who will be managing the franchise. Two sources have informed us that public money is being pursed in conjunction with the return of professional hockey to Utica. There are a few phases of upgrades to the Aud planned. Skyboxes are in the plans to be added to the 54-year old arena, however it isn't clear at this time during what planning phase work will get under way.
Season tickets - At this stage of planning, no definite dollar amount has been decided. Once an official announcement is made, on or about March 23 of the Flames relocating their AHL franchise to Utica, it wouldn't be a stretch to think that telemarketing-like phone calls will begin.
Locker room / training facilities : Some cleaning out of rooms in the lower level of the Aud have already been done we are informed. To the right of the Utica College hockey locker room entrance, this is the space where the new locker room and training facility will be constructed. We are told that the UC teams ( men & women ) will have access to the training facility.
Scheduling : At this time, the UC men's schedule is said to be honored for next season.
Management : The well known, well experienced local management team in the hockey world are expected to assume management of the Aud, from concessions to parking. We understand that the area behind the Aud, where fans for UC games and other events park in the street, will be paved and made into a parking lot(s).
Video Scoreboard : Plans are to replace the current scoreboard with a modern video scoreboard , of which UC games would have access to.
Ironically, in 1993 when the Devils relocated their AHL franchise to Albany where they became known as the River Rats, it was the Calgary Flames who purchased the team and relocated to St. John, New Brunswick.
Will there be support for professional hockey in the Mohawk Valley? This is the several million dollar question. If you study the attendance figures of the Utica College men's program, the answer would be a resounding - yes. Ticket prices are an important factor when kids and families have continued to support the programs. At $6.00 for adults and $2.00 for non-Utica College students, the games are highly affordable. AHL ticket prices clearly will be north of what UC charges. This is where recruiting season ticket and mini-plans, and single-game ticket sales will get a bit sticky. UC fans, as well as hockey fans in general, would have to get used to paying higher, professional hockey ticket prices.
Clearly, the local management team leaders know the region well and are experienced in every facet in the operation of an AHL franchise. They will be investing greatly in bring professional hockey back to the area. It appears that they have the cooperation of all the necessary parties needed to make this project succeed.
Does that mean Canucks would go from Chicago to Abby? Hope so.