As the AHL wraps up its bizarre and abbreviated 2020-21 season—thanks to the pandemic—they’re getting ready to return to normal in 2021-22. And part of that return to normal means relocating and rebranding a handful of teams.
Utica and Abbotsford
Rumors surfaced a few weeks ago that the New Jersey Devils were done running their minor league team out of Binghamton and were shifting operations to Utica. Same state, two hours north.
But, Utica already had a team, right? Well, behind the scenes the Vancouver Canucks were working to relocate the Utica Comets all the way across the continent—finally joining the rest of the NHL’s west coast teams.
So, here’s how it went down. On May 4, the Canucks announced their intention to move their AHL organization to Abbotsford, B.C.—just an hour away from Rogers Arena, making scouting trips and call-ups a breeze. Two days later, the AHL made it official as the board of governors simultaneously approved both moves.
On May 17, the day after their 2020-21 season came to a close, the Utica Comets revealed their new logo—recolored and slightly redrawn.
Utica fans won’t miss a beat. The only thing that will change for them apart from the color scheme is the roster—Devils prospects instead of Canucks.
But in the record books, this franchise, the red Utica Comets, is unrelated to the blue Comets. They carry the history of the Binghamton Devils (and the Albany Devils before that). This confused me at first too, but I get it now.
It’s not unlike the two iterations of the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL. Though the current team celebrates much of their city’s hockey history in present day, their franchise lineage traces back to the Atlanta Thrashers rather than Dale Hawerchuk’s old club, which now resides in Arizona.
A similar thing happened in the AHL in 2015 when the St. John’s IceCaps (Winnipeg) moved to Manitoba to become the Moose again while the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal) went to St. John’s to take up the IceCaps mantle—also with new colors—before leaving only two years later. (Hm, blue to red for both the IceCaps and Comets. Weird.)
The new team in Abbotsford will carry the history of the blue Utica Comets and have yet to announce a name and logo, which could come anytime between now and August, really. Likely sooner than later.
However! I do have something fun to share with regard to Abbotsford. The city was previously home to an AHL team called the Abbotsford Heat. The Calgary Flames’ affiliate played close to their parent club in the days just before the minor league had a Pacific Division.
Some years ago, a confidential source shared with me a photo of a unique Abbotsford jersey. The source said: “This was supposed to be the jersey they used from the get go, but then the Flames decided to scrap that idea.”
What a shame, right? This would’ve been a great logo and jersey for the Heat. That last-minute rethink by the parent club in Calgary left us with little more than a wordmark and carbon copy jerseys for five years.
Fittingly, one Icethetics reader suggested Abbotsford Aviators as a possible team name. Count me as a fan. And if they do go down that road, maybe there’s an opportunity to resurrect this unused logo after all!
Bye bye, Binghamton
Sadly, the thing being lost in the shuffle here is that this game of musical chairs may well leave the people of Binghamton, New York without a pro hockey team for the first time in decades.
They had the Dusters in the 1970s, the Whalers through the ’80s, and the Rangers in the ’90s before they moved to Hartford in 1997. The B.C. Icemen (UHL) bridged a five-year gap at the turn of the century before the Binghamton Senators arrived in 2002. They left for Belleville, Ontario in 2017, which is when the Devils swooped in to keep the lights on.
Now, it seems like city will have to look for hockey beyond the AHL for only the second time since 1977. To make matters worse, no games have even been played in Binghamton since March 2020 when the pandemic began. The Binghamton Devils played this season in Newark to be closer to their NHL parent in New Jersey.
Following the news of the AHL’s departure from Binghamton, the Federal Prospects Hockey League announced an expansion team called the Black Bears will begin play there this fall. Not quite the AHL, but hockey is hockey, right?
Bridgeport ditches brand personality
There’s another team that recently unveiled new branding in the AHL. The Bridgeport Sound Tigers officially renamed themselves the Bridgeport Islanders. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand this one.
The Sound Tigers have had a unique name and an eye-catching logo since 2001 when they joined the AHL as an expansion team. It was the kind of mascot kids love—and at the minor league level, that’s kinda what pays the bills most nights.
Beyond that, it was a minor league team that shared its NHL team’s colors (to save on equipment costs) while retaining its own identity. Those can be tough to come by—one reason I’m grateful the Comets are sticking around rather than being renamed the Utica Devils.
But the team is owned by their parent club on Long Island, so you know, corporate synergy I guess was bound to rear its head.
I’m just disappointed to be losing the Sound Tigers brand. It was always just one of those solid AHL logos you could count on year after year. Oh well. Life goes on.
ECHL expanding, Iowa name coming
I don’t want to end on a sour note, so let’s wrap up with something to look forward to.
The ECHL is adding two new expansion teams this fall in Coralville, Iowa and Trois-Rivieres, Quebec. And according to some cryptic tweets, the Iowa club is planning to reveal its name (and probably a logo) this Thursday, May 20.
I have no early information on this one and no clue what this brand will be—but I am looking forward to finding out. They’ve been using black and highlighter yellow on all their pre-launch marketing materials so far. To be honest, I don’t think I’d be upset if that’s where they landed. Interesting look.
No word yet on the Quebec team, but I’ll keep an eye on them too.
The ECHL will be adding yet another expansion team for 2022-23 in Savannah, Georgia. Savannah has never had a hockey team before and a new arena is under construction now.
Speaking of 2022 expansion and new arenas, don’t forget the AHL will add a team in Palm Springs, California. It will be the top affiliate of the Seattle Kraken, who will have to piggyback with another team when they begin NHL play this fall.