Remember when hockey in California was a novelty? You had the Golden Seals with their goofy jerseys and white skates. The Los Angeles Kings seemed like nothing more than a token gift to the West Coast.
Now, hockey in California is real, it’s a thing, and it’s getting much more serious with the American Hockey League’s announcement of the formation of the Pacific Division and the addition of five California franchises to start play in 2015-16. The breakdown from the release:
- The Anaheim Ducks will purchase the Norfolk Admirals AHL franchise and will relocate it from Norfolk, Va., to San Diego, Calif.
- The AHL franchise owned by the Calgary Flames will relocate from Glens Falls, N.Y., to Stockton, Calif.
- The AHL franchise owned by the Edmonton Oilers will relocate from Oklahoma City, Okla., to Bakersfield, Calif.
- The AHL franchise owned by the Los Angeles Kings will relocate from Manchester, N.H., to Ontario, Calif.
- The AHL franchise owned by the San Jose Sharks will relocate from Worcester, Mass., to San Jose, Calif.
I can think of about five "Anchorman" jokes about the Ducks in San Diego and many "Oregon Trail" refrences about teams moving west. Beware of cholera!
Anyway between the arrival of Wayne Gretzky to the Kings in the late 80s, to the Ducks and Kings’ success post-lockouts, California hockey has become trendy, hip and prolific.
There was a lot of hoopla and back-slapping during the news conference – but ultimately this is the right call. Anaheim general manager Bob Murray was highly passionate about the deal – seemingly not just because it helps the Ducks, but also because it continues the upward tick of hockey players from the state.
Murray insisted that on a morning in the middle of the season, “Instead of watching our team practice, I can go down the coast and watch my minor league team practice. “
It’s a luxury a lot of East Coast teams have, that he doesn’t out West.
He added, “Hockey is growing in California and the West Coast. This is going to take it one step ahead. “
It’s also going to be a neat proposition for hockey fans in California. Say you’re a Kings fan. You want to see some prospects play. Go to Ontario, which is about 40 miles east of Los Angeles.
Said Los Angeles exec and Kings Hall of Fame forward Luc Robitaille, “Fans are going to see players who are one phone call away from the NHL.”
As for the East Coast markets losing a team? It stinks. Departing franchises blow on any level. This is obvious. But this had to happen.
Said Calgary general manager Brad Treliving, “I applaud the GMs and their foresight on how to make a better development model.”
A move like this doesn’t occur if there isn’t some competitive help towards the NHL teams, or if it doesn't add a level of cost efficiency. Now if a team wants to call up a player, he’s much closer to an international airport, or just a drive from the parent team’s city.
If Murray wants to recall Emerson Etem (who has gone back and forth between Anaheim and Norfolk this year) from San Diego, just tell him to jump in his car and drive up ‘The 5' to Anaheim. Done deal.
Good for the AHL. Good for hockey in California. Good for the NHL. Smart move.
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