A new era of hockey in Abbotsford

The basics of the AHL and its newest team

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A close up shot of the back of a net on an outdoor hockey rink.
Homebound: Vancouver relocates its AHL team to Abbotsford after seven seasons in Utica, New York. Photo: Chris Liverani / Unsplash

By: Greg Makarov, SFU Student

On July 14, 2021, the ownership of the Vancouver Canucks finally decided to move their affiliate team to the city of Abbotsford

The Canucks were previously associated with their affiliate team, the Utica Comets (New York), between 2013–21. However there were some issues, one being logistics, that led to the clubs parting ways. As Utica is very far away from Vancouver, whenever prospects needed to be brought up, it could take up to a week. 

With the addition of Abbotsford, each of the 32 NHL teams (minus the Seattle Kraken), have their own affiliate team in the American Hockey League (AHL). Similarly to the NHL, the AHL season ends with a quest to win the cup. An AHL team serves multiple functions for the NHL team and the local region it’s placed in. 

For any up-and-coming prospect, it’s best to play in both leagues: they can practice certain skills in the AHL and then challenge themselves in the NHL. The long distance between the Canucks and the Comets disrupted that process significantly, as players would either be left in the AHL for too long or play in the NHL for longer than they should. 

Sometimes players suit the AHL better if they face difficulties adapting to a faster and much more physical pace. Roster spots can open up on NHL teams due to injuries, management decisions, or to shake up the roster for offense. In this case, players are called up from the AHL to play for the big club. 

The relocation has also provided a passionate local market with a hockey team that hopefully will be successful with the many additions that have been made in the 2021 offseason.

The Abbotsford Canucks have been in the middle of the pack this season, sporting a (4–4–2) record to put them in sixth in the Pacific division. However, they took their biggest hit in a loss against divisional rival San Jose Barracuda. Having lost a few games in a row, some frustration was on display as some questionable hits were thrown, leaving player Joel Kellman (San Jose) to be stretchered off the ice at the Abbotsford Centre. The disastrous start for its parent organization — the Vancouver Canucks — has also put a bit of strain on the Abbotsford Canucks team chemistry with constant call ups. Hopefully they can start to get some more wins under their belt, starting with the Tucson Roadrunners on November 26.

AHL teams allow prospects to play in different game type situations to better prepare them for the big leagues. It’s a crucial aspect of a franchise and the reason behind the annual NHL Draft each year. Having a player drafted in a team’s system allows management to assist a player in their growth and have them situated with the city, management, and fans before they play under the big lights. After all, not everyone can play in the NHL at 18.