Canucks fans can love the Heat while still hating the Flames

During last year’s AHL playoffs, the Abbotsford Heat swept the Milwaukee Admirals, earning them a berth in the second round against the Toronto Marlies. After winning the first game, the Marlies won the next three, making game five one of the greatest events in hockey: a playoff elimination game.

With the Canucks already eliminated from the playoffs, the Heat were hoping that hockey-hungry fans would flock to the Abbotsford Sports & Entertainment Centre to take in the action. Instead, a paltry 1360 fans showed up for what turned out to be a thrilling overtime game. I was one of the few people in attendance and it was thoroughly depressing to see so many empty seats.

I understand why it happened of course. It was risky to plant the AHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames in the heart of Canucks country and the terrible branding and marketing did little to separate the Heat from the Flames in the minds of most fans. Their more recent slogan “Our Town. Our Team.” that I’ve seen on signs around Abbotsford is far better, but it’s too little, too late for many. Most Canucks fans just can’t wrap their minds around the idea of cheering for the affiliate of one of the Canucks’ biggest rivals, even during an NHL lockout where the Heat are the only professional hockey within driving distance.

Let me help you remove that roadblock: if you cheer for the Heat, you want the Flames to be terrible. Becoming a Heat fan won’t make you into a Flames fan by proxy; instead, it will simply heighten your hate.

To put it simply, the worse that the Calgary Flames get, the better the Abbotsford Heat get. It starts at the NHL draft: the worse the Flames do during the season, the higher their draft picks get. Higher draft picks lead to better prospects, which leads to better players on the Heat.

Even if the Flames manage to pick a can’t-miss prospect with a high first round draft pick, that prospect will likely need to spend a season or two in the AHL adapting to the professional game. Meanwhile, the Flames’ draft picks in later rounds will also be higher, leading to incrementally better players entering their farm system, boosting the talent level on the Heat gradually over time.

That’s just the long-term benefit to the Heat by the Flames being awful. Perhaps you want some instant gratification. If the Flames miss the playoffs, their players on two-way contracts will head back down to the Heat to bolster their ranks heading into the AHL postseason. Cheer for the Heat to make the playoffs while rooting for the Flames to burn out, because that’s the best way for the Heat to make a long run.

You might be worried about growing an attachment to Flames prospects that will carry over to their careers in the NHL. Sure, Sven Baertschi and Roman Horak are pretty great as players for the Abbotsford Heat, but you don’t want to be saying the same thing when they’re wearing the Flaming “C.” As a Heat fan, however, you will want those prospects to become complete busts in the NHL so they can be sent back down to the Heat as soon as possible.

Ideally, every Flames prospect would turn into a Jason Krog, Darren Haydar, or Brett Sterling. They are AHL All-Stars, with an impressive list of accomplishments at the AHL level, but have never managed to stick in the NHL. Krog scored 112 points for the Chicago Wolves in 2007-08. Haydar had a 122 point season for the Wolves in 2006-07. Sterling scored 55 goals as a rookie for the Wolves in that same season.

Of those three, Krog has had the most NHL success, playing a couple seasons for the Ducks back when they were still Mighty. Sterling has played 30 NHL games over his career, while Haydar has only managed 23. So cheer for the Flames’ prospects in Abbotsford. Cheer for them to become incredible AHL players who provide nothing whatsoever for their parent club.

Besides, there are plenty of players on the Heat who will never have any impact with the Flames. Ben Walter is 28 and is essentially a career AHLer at this point. The son of team President (and former Canuck) Ryan Walter is a hard-working, consistent 20-goal scorer, the kind of player fans love to cheer for. The Heat’s starting goaltender, Danny Taylor, isn’t even signed with the Flames. Calgary’s top goaltending prospect, Leland Irving, isn’t even the Heat’s backup goalie: he’s their third-stringer behind Barry Brust, who is quite possibly insane.

Then again, you might be concerned about the fact that the Flames own the Heat directly. You don’t want to see any of your money lining the Flames pockets. Throw that concern away: the city of Abbotsford is already under contract to make up any shortfall of the $5.7 million in guaranteed revenue the Flames are promised. Over the last two years, the city has had to pay the Flames $1.7 million, money that comes straight out of the taxpayer’s pockets.

While you can bemoan the terrible arena deal (and you really should), the upshot is that by attending Heat games and buying Heat merchandise, you’re not really feeding money to the Flames. Instead, you’re keeping money from flowing out of the city’s coffers, ensuring that those funds are used locally.

If you’re missing professional hockey during the lockout, you owe it to yourself to give the Abbotsford Heat a try. At least come out to one of their games against the Toronto Marlies on Thursday or Friday. If there’s anything that Canucks fans might hate more than the Calgary Flames, it’s Toronto, so you just may be able to cheer for the Heat for the very first time. Who knows, it might feel good.

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  1. C.K. Lee
    October 31, 2012

    It’s a great product on the ice, and there’s no bad seats in the house. They’re great value and awesome hockey even when the NHL is playing. Hope to see them stick around for a long time.

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  2. avelanch
    October 31, 2012

    but then you’d have that dirty feeling that you just can’t wash off that you cheered FOR someone associated with the flames… it’s a kind of dirty that will never go away.

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  3. Dane
    October 31, 2012

    As an overseas hockey fan, I feel these options are not entirely directed at me. Sure, I will most definitely “Cheer for them to become incredible AHL players who provide nothing whatsoever for their parent club” but I guess the main point of this article is to raise attendance at Abbotsford games.

    Which leaves me in a quandary. Christmas is coming and I’d like to get my misses something hockey related (I’m slowly converting her from Rugby League). Should I A) Get her a Lack Wolves jersey (she thinks he is cute and therefore, amazing at everything), 2) A Weise Tilburg Jersey (plays to her Dutch heritage) or iii) Wait for a Hansen jersey with an amusing penis related sponsor on it (will provide hours of amusement ….. for me).

    I want to support hockey wherever I can as it has grown into my major love/hobby/past time, but living in a country with a small (but burgeoning) hockey community it can be very hard to get enough for that hockey fix. HELP ME MR. WAGNER!

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    • Nee
      October 31, 2012

      I vote Lack jersey. : ) But why not an actual Nucks jersey? Though they are pretty pricey.

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      • Dane
        October 31, 2012

        Lack it is!

        There is the price, however, I’d rather get her a jersey from someone she’s seen play, rather than someone I’ve raved about. I have talked her ears off about the Canucks for a fair while but only this season was she going to start watching games with me. Luck would have it there is no NHL yet so we’ve been watching AHL games online. She’s enjoying it which is a good sign, so hopefully NHL isn’t too far off and sh’ll love that too! But in the meantime, she is attached to the Wolves.

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  4. John in Marpole
    October 31, 2012

    Well said, It is just plain silly to not support the Heat simply because they are linked to the Flames. It’s the AHL, people. You aren’t going to get any better quality local hockey in Abbotsford until the NHL expands in 2080.

    Which leads to something that has puzzled me for a couple of years: the folks in Victoria who thought having a WHL team was better than having an ECHL team. I understand why ownership went that direction, more profits. But for the fans, the quality of hockey isn’t as good in the W as it is in the ECHL.

    16/17/18/19 years olds do not have the skill level of 20-somethings who have been playing pro – even the ECHL level – hockey. That’s a fact.

    This isn’t to say that WHL hockey isn’t good or exciting, but a good ECHL team would take the junior’s lunch money and make them beg for the return of their Batman lunchboxes if they played one another. As a hockey fan I prefer better skills than the excitiement generated – much of the time – by mistakes which is a given in junior hockey.

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    • BakerGeorgeT
      November 1, 2012

      It’s more like college football vs. world league football. Sure, the action might be a little more sophisticated at the World League level, but you aren’t seeing tomorrow’s stars at that level either. You are watching glorified rec ball.

      The same applies to the ECHL.

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    • workerparasite
      November 2, 2012

      Plus the Salmon Kings had the greatest logo in the history of logos!

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  5. Hanky Doodle Dandy
    October 31, 2012

    Too bad Heat ownership didn’t grasp that the tight they appear to be with The Flames the harder it is going to be for them to sell tickets/jerseys/anything. Instead they flaunted the fact they are the Flames farm team and, of all the idiotic things to do, put them in Flames colours!

    The smart thing they did was get the city to guarantee them 5.7 mil in revenue. They’re going to need all that and a fresh start to get people through those doors. Or, maybe the Canucks can move their farm team there when the revenue deal expires. They wouldn’t need the guarantee from the city to turn a tidy profit.

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