A media report out of Glens Falls, N.Y. has re-ignited speculation on the future of the Abbotsford Heat.
The Post-Star newspaper reported that Michael Holditch, the Calgary Flames’ senior vice president and assistant general manager, took a tour of the Glens Falls Civic Center with local officials last week.
The Flames own the Heat of the American Hockey League, who have struggled at the box office during their five years in Abbotsford. Glens Falls, meanwhile, is the current home of the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms, but they’re in the market for a new team with the Phantoms set to move to Allentown, Pa. for the 2014-15 season.
This is the second straight spring that the Heat have been rumoured to be headed to upstate New York.
In 2013, speculation held that the Heat were ticketed for Utica, N.Y., with the Vancouver Canucks’ freshly purchased AHL franchise (the former Peoria Rivermen) moving into their old digs at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre (AESC).
Those transactions not come to fruition, as talks between the Canucks and the City of Abbotsford reached a stalemate. The Vancouver affiliate is now stationed in Utica, where it’s known as the Comets.
The 4,800-seat Glens Falls Civic Center has housed the Phantoms, the Philadelphia Flyers’ affiliate, since the 2009-10 season after the team’s former home, the old Spectrum in Philadelphia, was demolished.
But the long-term plan for owners Rob and Jim Brooks has always been for the Phantoms to move into a new arena in Allentown, and that facility will be completed in time for next season. That’s sent Glens Falls officials on a search for another AHL franchise.
The Heat rank 29th out of 30 teams in AHL attendance this season. They’ve drawn 2,924 fans per game to the 7,046-seat AESC in 2013-14, down from 3,778 last season.
The attendance issues have compelled the City of Abbotsford to cover annual deficits as part of the hockey team’s supply fee agreement to play out of the AESC, which guarantees the team a $5.7 million break-even budget.
The shortfall for 2012-13 was $1.66 million, bringing the total bill to $5.24 million over the first four seasons.
There is a five-year review clause in the contract which would come into effect after this season, but changes have to be agreed upon by all parties.
Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman, through a spokesperson, declined comment on Monday.
Back on Nov. 29, Banman spent time with Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini during a Heat home game vs. the Comets. Speaking with The News after the game, he downplayed the notion that talks with the Canucks were ongoing, but left the door open for future negotiations between the city and the NHL club “when it’s appropriate.”
“My understanding is that there’s a fury of activity within about the last three to four months of the season,” he said.
“I wish him (Aquilini) many more times coming here, and I hope he falls in love with the building.”