The Vancouver Canucks announced Friday morning their new American Hockey League team will be the Utica Comets, based in Utica, New York.
Located in Oneida County (within the heart of the Mohawk Valley), the city of Utica is within 500 miles of 17 of the top 50 US markets, according to the city’s official website, but more importantly to Laurence Gilman, Canucks VP of hockey operations & assistant GM, it’s within shouting distance of many AHL teams, making travel a breeze.
Utica will be the sixth AHL team in the state of New York, along with the Adirondack Phantoms, Albany Devils, Binghamton Senators, Rochester Americans and Syracuse Crunch; a road game to Syracuse, for example, will require less than an hour travel time.
Less time spent traveling means more time at home instead of hotels, and more time at the rink practicing instead of on the bus.
“Utica is located in the heart of the American Hockey League, it’s within a couple hours driving distance to half a dozen teams,” said Gilman, who attended the press conference Friday morning. “From a developmental model, it’s a great location to place an American Hockey League team because your team will be playing games and sleeping at home more nights, which translates to more days practicing. That’s truly a win-win for everyone.”
Gilman, like everyone within the Canucks organization, is excited for the potential this vertical integration offers. Vancouver will now have total control of the hockey team and Gilman said the Canucks will use that to their full advantage.
“It’s favourable for us is that we control the hockey operations 100 per cent and our partners control the business operations. We can now concentrate on developing hockey players and winning games and allow our partners to maximize their time generating revenue. Again, it just makes sense for everyone.”
While location and control were paramount to choosing Utica at the location for Vancouver’s new AHL affiliate, the rich hockey history from within Utica made it an appealing site from the get go.
The Utica Memorial Auditorium will be home to the Comets, and it’s currently home to the Utica College Pioneers Hockey, an NCAA Div III team that sells out more games than not and has the highest average attendance of any American Div III team.
Before the Pioneers began playing in 2000, Utica was home to numerous teams: Utica Devils (AHL) (1987-1993), Utica Bulldogs (CoHL) (1993-1994), Utica Blizzard (UHL) (1993-1997) and Mohawk Valley Prowlers (UHL) (1997-2002).
Before Utica had its own team, Clinton, a town 15 minutes away, was home to the Comets for 46 years; the team played in the NYSAHL, MYOHL and EHL before joining the NAHL upon moving to Utica in 1973. The Comets enjoyed their most success in the Eastern Hockey League, winning the title five times.
“Utica definitely has hockey in its blood,” Utica mayor Robert Palmieri told Elliott Pap of the Vancouver Sun in late May. “Utica is a hockey town and it's been that way for years and years and years. I think, quite frankly, bringing in another AHL team makes a tremendous amount of sense. I think Vancouver and Utica would be just a perfect marriage for great hockey in this area.”
Utica will be the 12th minor league affiliate of the Canucks in team history and this will be the third time Vancouver's affiliate plays in the state of New York; the Rochester Americans were the Canucks AHL affiliate from 1970 through 1972, while the Syracuse Crunch were the main development team for the Canucks from 1994 to 2000.
-With research from Tyson Giuriato