PALM SPRINGS -- Following in the skate strides of Seattle, it was announced Monday that Palm Springs will be the 32nd franchise in the American Hockey League beginning with the 2021-22 season. The AHL Board of Governors voted unanimously to approve the expansion application of NHL Seattle and Oak View Group to place its primary development affiliate in the renowned southern California desert town.
"On behalf of the AHL's Board of Governors, I am thrilled to welcome the NHL Seattle ownership team and the city of Palm Springs as the league's 32nd franchise," said David Andrews, AHL president and CEO. "Palm Springs has all the makings of an outstanding hockey market and will further strengthen the growing base of our sport in California."
The location is ideal for parent club NHL Seattle in an era when AHL players are routinely called up to play in NHL games due to injuries and illness. There are several convenient direct flights between Palm Springs and Seattle each day. Another big draw is Oak View Group's plans to build a brand-new $250 million arena with a capacity of 10,000 fans plus training and conditioning facilities second to none in the AHL. Fan and community support will be strong.
"We are so excited to bring the first professional hockey team to the region," said Tod Leiweke, CEO of NHL Seattle ahead Monday's official announcement press conference in Palm Springs. "This is an exciting time for Palm Springs, the hockey community and NHL Seattle fans. As we're doing in Seattle, we will build a world-class organization that our fans in Palm Springs and Seattle will be proud to support."
Seattle General Manager, Ron Francis, will lead hockey operations for both teams, no doubt with support from assistant general manager Ricky Olczyk and director of hockey administration Alexandra Mandrycky and others joining the NHL and AHL management team before the pucks drop for real in the fall of 2021.
"It's a great location in Palm Springs and another top-notch facility for our players, especially at their development stage playing in the AHL," said Francis in an exclusive interview. "The plans include little things you don't always have in development facilities because spaces can be tight, such as a locker room centrally located for games and practices, hot and cold hydro tubs, an entire area devoted to workout facilities and a players lounge.
"The key is providing a facility for players to improve. Everything we can do to help them in the process is what we are trying to do."
Olczyk remarked that while lots of AHL-to-NHL moves are "injury-driven," there will be call-ups from the AHL "rewarding players for their strong play and efforts." As part of his duties, Olczyk will manage Palm Springs player contracts, which count among the 50 maximum allowed for each NHL team.
The AHL is the top professional hockey league to develop players as NHL-ready with franchises throughout the United States and Canada. The Palm Springs team will join a Pacific Division that includes five rival teams in California plus one in Colorado and another in Arizona. Among the league's most storied franchises are the Hershey Bears (PA), Toronto Marlies, Milwaukee Admirals and Manitoba Moose.
The Charlotte Checkers, affiliate of the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, won the 2019 AHL Calder Cup championship trophy with a roster primarily built by Seattle General Manager Ron Francis and his front office group that included Olczyk. Eighty percent of the Checkers' postseason scoring (goals and assists) was tallied by players signed or acquired by Francis.
Francis said the Palm Springs affiliate will mirror NHL Seattle in another important way.
"Sticking with our concept in Seattle, we aim to create a community gathering place as well," Francis said.
Tim Leiweke, Oak View Group CEO, joins his brother Tod for a Monday 10 a.m. Pacific time press conference to discuss the awarding of the AHL expansion franchise and the newly formed arena partnership between Oak View Group and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Riverside County.
The $250M arena project in Palm Springs will break ground in early 2020 and will open in the fall of 2021.
TICKETS: Secure your AHL Palm Springs deposit now!
AHL Palm Springs launched a ticket drive Monday for season ticket deposits. Fans can reserve tickets at AHLPalmSprings.com. Season ticket memberships will include all AHL home games with the first right to music concerts and other events at the New Arena at Agua Caliente.