American Hockey League to form new Pacific Division, Kings and Ducks to field local teams

January 30, 2015

For West Coast fans who cannot get enough hockey, good news is on the way, as American Hockey League President and CEO David Andrews announced that the league’s Board of Governors has formally and unanimously approved the steps necessary to create a Pacific Division within the AHL beginning with the 2015-16 season.

“This is a wonderful growth opportunity for the game of hockey in the Western region and it will have a tremendous impact for years to come,” said Luc Robitaille, President of Business Operations for the Los Angeles Kings. “I want to commend each of the participating clubs, along with Dave Andrews, Bill Daly and Gary Bettman, for their commitment, patience and willingness to work through a very challenging but worthwhile process in order to get to this day.”

The agreement provides advantages both on and off the ice for the Kings, Ducks, and Sharks, such as savings on travel, cross-promotion, and marketability of players as they develop into future NHL stars while playing in the top developmental hockey league in North America.

No longer will young players on the East Coast have to travel cross-country just to join their respective NHL squads.

“The immense growth of the game of hockey in the state of California shows that hockey fans here love the game and they support it,” said San Jose Sharks Chief Operating Officer John Tortora. “Having our top prospects playing on the same coast as our National Hockey League team will greatly enhance our ability to monitor and enhance their development. The creation of this Pacific Division of the American Hockey League has been a long time in the making and is the result of an immense amount of hard work by the AHL, the NHL and the five Pacific Division teams.”

The Board has approved the following:
• The Anaheim Ducks will purchase the Norfolk Admirals AHL franchise and will relocate it to San Diego. 
• The AHL franchise owned by the Los Angeles Kings will relocate from Manchester, New Hampshire, to Ontario, California. 
• The AHL franchise owned by the Calgary Flames will relocate from Glens Falls, New York, to Stockton, California. 
• The AHL franchise owned by the Edmonton Oilers will relocate from Oklahoma City to Bakersfield, California. 
• The AHL franchise owned by the San Jose Sharks will relocate from Worcester, Massachusetts, to San Jose.

“Relocating five teams is a complex process, and we are very excited to have brought this initiative to a successful outcome,” said Andrews. “The Western-based NHL clubs have been in dialogue with our league for almost three years, and today’s announcement launches a new era for the American Hockey League and for professional hockey in California.”

Full division alignments and schedule formats for the 2015-16 season will be determined by the Board of Governors at a later date.

Formed in 1936, the American Hockey League serves as the top development league for players in all 30 National Hockey League organizations, as well as coaches, officials, executives, trainers and broadcasters throughout the NHL. More than 88 percent of today’s NHL players are graduates of the American Hockey League, and through the years the AHL has been home to more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Ducks' San Diego team to play at Valley View Casino Center

The Anaheim Ducks will purchase the Norfolk Admirals franchise and relocate it to San Diego, where the team will play home games at Valley View Casino Center near downtown.

“With five new AHL teams in the state, today is a landmark day for hockey in California,” said Ducks Owners Henry & Susan Samueli. “We’ve long been excited by the idea of San Diego, which has a successful track record for supporting hockey, as our AHL home. We are extremely pleased and proud to bring the hockey back to the market.”

The San Diego AHL club’s staff will include: Michael Schulman - Chief Executive Officer; Bob Murray - President of Hockey Operations; Ari Segal - President of Business Operations; and Bob Ferguson - General Manager.

Last season, the Ducks were selected as The Hockey News’ No. 1 team in Future Watch 2014, which grades the prospects and player development of all 30 NHL teams. Of the top 100 prospects named in Future Watch 2014, the Ducks have three in the top 30 and four overall. Anaheim held the No. 2 spot in Future Watch 2013.

San Diego’s professional hockey tradition began in 1944-45 with the San Diego Skyhawks of the Pacific Coast Hockey League (PCHL), who won the PCHL title in 1948-49. The San Diego Gulls of the West Coast Hockey League (WCHL) won titles in 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001 and 2003.

The club will hold a “San Diego HockeyFest” at Valley View Casino Center from noon – 3 p.m. on Sunday, February 22, to celebrate the return of professional hockey to San Diego.

The free event will include the official unveiling of the AHL club’s name and logo, along with a full “Hockey Spot” experience that takes place prior to Ducks Sunday home games at Honda Center.

The “Hockey Spot” includes street hockey, a Ducks Jump Castle (bounce house), a photo booth, and the Hardest Shot Challenge. HockeyFest will also feature guest appearances and autograph sessions by local hockey legends, appearances by the Ducks Street Team and Power Players, live music from San Diego-based bands, hot dogs and soda, and a t-shirt (first 1,000 fans) with the club’s name and logo (all complimentary).

Fans who sign up for full season ticket plans will also have the opportunity to view and select their seats at the event.

LA Kings new AHL team to play in Ontario

The Ontario Reign, a four-time ECHL Pacific Division Champions and affiliate of the NHL's 2014 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings and Winnipeg Jets, will be getting a makeover next season, as the team will become part of the American Hockey League following the Manchester Monarchs move to Ontario.

The Ontario Reign name will remain the same as they enter into a multi-year affiliation agreement with the LA Kings and become the primary training ground for Kings prospects.

“From the business end, we believe both organizations – the Ontario Reign and the LA Kings – will work very well together to create a great, fan-friendly experience that fans, both new to the club and those who have proudly supported the club over the years, will enjoy immensely,” said Kings President, Business Operations Luc Robitaille. “On the hockey side, it will be tremendous to see the talent on the ice as they make strides in their professional career.  In a lot of ways, when you are at the American Hockey League level, you are a phone call away to the NHL, plus the proximity of Ontario to STAPLES Center will be a great benefit to our players as we continue to help their development."

Ontario will play host to the highest caliber of hockey that it has seen since it was introduced to the sport at a professional level in 1958 with the Ontario Canucks of the California Hockey League.

"I am extremely excited to see AHL hockey come to Ontario," said outgoing President Justin Kemp. "The city of Ontario has experienced tremendous growth in recent years and with that comes expectations of a higher level of professional sports, especially when it comes to hockey. Fans will now have the ability to watch a player in Ontario one night with the Reign and in Los Angeles with the Kings the following evening. Over the past several seasons, hockey has become an important part of the sports landscape in the Inland Empire, and the Reign will continue to be the best family sports entertainment value in the region."

In accordance with this news, current Monarchs President Darren Abbott will assume the same duties for the Reign organization, effective immediately.

"I am thrilled to be a part of this truly historic shift that is taking place," Abbott said. "I look forward to the opportunity to get to know the Reign fans, as their loyalty and enthusiasm have helped create one of the most passionate environments in all of minor league hockey. They are proof that hockey is alive and thriving in southern California, and I am excited for the new challenges that await this organization as it enters the next frontier in the AHL."

LA Kings to maintain ECHL presence in Manchester

The Manchester Monarchs, proud affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings, will play in the ECHL beginning in 2015-16.

The Ontario Reign, Los Angeles’s current ECHL affiliate, will be part of a five-team Pacific Division in the AHL next season.

The arrangement also allows the Monarchs to continue their affiliation with the team that has won the Stanley Cup in two of the past three seasons.

“It’s a great day for the Kings organization,” Robitaille said. “We have always felt this was our second home and we are very happy that we are able to stay here and play under the Kings brand.  It was important to us the whole time we were negotiating and we want everyone to understand that from the AHL’s point of view it was a hockey decision to get a few of our young guys a little bit closer, but for us, the opportunity to stay in Manchester has been so great for the Kings.  We understand that [Manchester] is a great hockey market with very passionate fans.”

The team also announced a five-year extension to its agreement with the arena that runs until 2021.

“I am happy to announce that our team will enter the ECHL beginning next season and play a 36-game home regular season here in The Jungle, the Verizon Wireless Arena,” Manchester Monarchs President Darren Abbott said.

The ECHL is considered a premier development league for potential NHL players.  Current Kings Jonathan Quick, Jordan Nolan and Dwight King all played in the ECHL.

“When the deal is complete, AEG and the Los Angeles Kings will have invested 20 years in the city of Manchester,” Abbott said.  “The path that we blazed to get here today was not an easy one, however preserving pro hockey in the city of Manchester as an amenity was always the goal.”

The ECHL began play in 1988-89 with five teams in four states.  It has grown into a coast-to-coast league with 28 teams in 20 states and one Canadian province for its 27th season in 2014-15.  The ECHL has affiliations with 29 of the 30 NHL teams in 2014-15, marking the 18th consecutive season that the league had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL.

By Staff of and news services

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