Abbotsford News

The vote is Yes! Abbotsford gets AHL hockey

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AHL hockey is coming to Abbotsford.

The majority of the AHL's 29 board of governors this morning voted to support the application, which will see the Calgary Flames' top farm team move to Abbotsford in time for the 2009-2010 hockey season.

"It's a West Coast team and we have made history," Lane Sweeting, spokesman for the local ownership group, told the Abbotsford News shortly after the announcement.

"People have tried before and not been successful. Calgary did a great job of saying they wanted this to happen . . . but the biggest winner is the Abbotsford fans and the Fraser Valley hockey fans."

Before the vote in Chicago, Sweeting and other members of the local ownership group again pitched their case to the league in a bid to receive the 75 per cent of votes required.

The ownership group had already signed a 10-year affiliation agreement with the Flames, of the National Hockey League (NHL), to shift their farm team to Abbotsford later this year.

Before that could be finalized, the agreement needed the approval of the league.

The AHL team will play in front of up to 7,000 fans at the new Entertainment and Sports Centre on King Road.

Travel and distance had always been the biggest obstacles for the Abbotsford application. Abbotsford will be the league's most western location, but the local ownership group has agreed to pay opponents' travel costs.

Calgary Flames President Ken King said he is "extremely excited" to be moving the team's AHL franchise to Abbotsford.

"It's a wonderful market . . . and we are very happy," he told the News this morning.

"What we really need now from your city is the kind of support that certainly seems to exist there.

"We have been most impressed with the passion and commitment of the folks from Abbotsford, and their determination and goal to make this happen."

King also paid tribute to the new Abbotsford arena. describing it as "maybe the finest facility in the American Hockey League."

King was part of a three-strong group which made its pitch to the board of governors before the vote.

Also making the presentation were Flames GM Darryl Sutter and Jay Teichroeb, the City of Abbotsford's head of economic development.

Teichroeb described the experience as "unbelievable."

After making the presentation, the Abbotsford group was asked to leave the board meeting during the governors' 45-minute discussion.

"It was pretty tense . . . but we were invited back in [to the meeting] and they told us 'Abbotsford is now a member of the American Hockey League,'" he said.

According to Teichroeb, the board of governors listened intently to the presentation made by Abbotsford and Calgary. Teichroeb spoke about the strength of the market and the new arena, Sutter talked about Abbotsford from a hockey development perspective, and King focused on the business elements of the deal.

Giving his reaction to the news, Abbotsford Mayor George Peary said AHL-calibre hockey is "long overdue" in Abbotsford and the surrounding area.

"We are very excited," he said. "We are going to have B.C.'s only AHL team and this is great news for the city."

Abbotsford was one of three relocations approved by the league during the board of governors meeting, said league commissioner Dave Andrews. The other two teams have moved to Austin, Tex. and Glens Falls, N.Y.

"On behalf of our board, it's my privilege to welcome these three cities to the AHL family," said Andrews.

"We are looking forward to these new opportunities in Austin and Abbotsford, and we're excited to be returning to the rich AHL tradition in Glens Falls."

Abbotsford will become one of 30 teams in the AHL, North America's top minor pro hockey circuit which serves as the primary developmental league for the NHL.

Founded in 1936, the AHL is in its 73rd season. Miikka Kirpusoff, Jason Spezza, Martin Brodeur and Daniel Briere are among hundreds of NHL stars who have honed their skills in the AHL.

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