Photo via Jessi Pierce of the Oneida Daily Dispatch.
Considering how many sagas the Vancouver Canucks have been juggling in recent days, it’s entirely possible that you might have lost track of one or two, so let’s get you caught up on the AHL affiliate saga, which came to a merciful end this week with the introduction of the Utica Comets.
Ever since their sweet deal with the Manitoba Moose was killed by the return of the Winnipeg Jets in 2011, the Canucks have been working to find an AHL partnership as cushy as that one. The two-year pact with the Chicago Wolves, which expired at the end of this season, wasn’t it. While the Moose were a somewhat accommodating franchise, willing to give big minutes to the Canucks’ developing prospects, the Wolves were as independent as Destiny’s Child. (The star on our team? We bought it. The stud on our D? We bought it.)
It created obstacles, and at some point in the relationship, the Canucks began working on a plan to procure their own AHL team, which would be closer to home, both in terms of their interests and their proximity. They set their sights on Abbotsford.
The plan only half-worked. After purchasing the Peoria Rivermen from the St. Louis Blues, the Canucks couldn’t work out a deal with the Flames to move the Abbotsford Heat elsewhere. Thus, for the past month or so, the Canucks has been looking for a city to park their new affiliate.
They landed on Utica, New York, birthplace of Springfield school district Superintendent Gary Chalmers. On Friday, Laurence Gilman, Lorne Henning, and Tom Sestito (for some reason) were in upstate New York to formally announce the advent of their new affiliate, the Comets.
Why not the Utica Canucks? It sounds like a stutter, for one thing, although as some on Twitter pointed out, the Utica Nucks would have been sort of clever. Granted, nicknames of nicknames are always a terrible idea.
Comet, on the other hand, sort of sounds like Canuck. More importantly, it’s a throwback to Utica’s hockey history, and it’s also appropriate in that they’ll be A) very far away, and B) Only visible for a short time since, from the sounds of it, this is just a temporary solution until the Canucks can free up Abbotsford. It’ll be interesting to see if their agreement with the city has an out clause. We’d imagine that it does, although, heck, maybe the Canucks wind up liking it there and eventually they move the big club East instead? Probably not, but keep an eye out for Gillis sporting an “I heart NY” t-shirt.
Other names that were considered, according to our sources deep in the know:
I didn’t have a vote, but if I did, I would have voted for the last one, if only to to see if their jerseys would have turned out more suggestive than this one.
Speaking of their jerseys, they’ll be pretty close to what the Canucks wear. Here’s a look, via the Comets’ Facebook page:
Not bad, not bad.
And speaking of bad, here’s a prototype of their eventual third jerseys:
Anyway, from a hockey perspective, while the Canucks’ kids will be even further from home than Manitoba, Chicago, or Peoria, where they plucked this team from, Scott Arniel believes it will help them from a developmental perspective. From the Province:
“You pick their ice time and to have an opportunity whether you’re a first, second or third-year player to play and grow together — it really prepares them for the NHL,” the 50-year-old Arniel said from his Winnipeg home. “There was lots of pressure in Chicago and Manitoba to win because they’ve had a history of that. When you have that many bodies changing over and are trying to win games, it’s not good for anybody.
“But now, these kids can be in all kinds of situations whether it be the power play or penalty kill and being out there in the last minute of a game. That’s what they need, to just go out and not worry about the consequences of somebody taking their spot. It’s good for their confidence.”
Talk all you want about proximity — obviously, Abbotsford is a better geographical fit — but I think the Canucks would prefer autonomy, and that’s what they have now in Utica.
Finally, if Utica’s Mascot isn’t a comet named Gromit, I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.