There’s been much conjecture over the past year about the possibility of the Vancouver Canucks moving their AHL affiliate to Abbotsford, and Francesco Aquilini coyly fanned the flames of that speculation on Friday evening.
Speaking with videographer Kevin MacDonald prior to a game between the Abbotsford Heat and the Utica Comets (see video above), the Canucks’ co-owner was asked if there was any chance the Vancouver farm team might eventually end up playing out of the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
“I don’t know – you’ve got to ask this gentleman right here,” Aquilini said with a chuckle, gesturing to Abbotsford mayor Bruce Banman, who was accompanying him through the back entrance of the arena. “This is the guy to talk to.
“It’s a great arena, great market. There’s 800,000 people in this (Fraser Valley) area, so you know, Calgary got in at the right time.”
The City of Abbotsford and Canucks ownership had engaged in talks in the spring after the Vancouver NHL club acquired the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen from the St. Louis Blues. Rumours swirled that the Rivermen franchise was ticketed for Abbotsford, with the Heat (owned by and affiliated with the Calgary Flames) exiting for Utica, N.Y.
Lane Sweeting, whose Fraser Valley Sports and Entertainment group runs the Heat’s business operations, said that FVSE and the Flames had given the city and the Canucks “the opportunity to make a deal.” But in late April, Banman confirmed that talks with the Canucks had reached a stalemate. The Rivermen franchise ended up in Utica and were dubbed the Comets.
“There were time constraints, and at the end of the day, the city is not going to do a deal unless it’s in the best interests of taxpayers,” Banman said at the time.
On Friday, Banman told MacDonald, “You never know, it’s never over till it’s over. I’m just excited to have a great hockey team (the Heat) here in the arena.”
Speaking with the News after the Comets’ 3-2 win, Banman downplayed the notion that his interaction with Aquilini signaled that negotiations are ongoing, and chuckled at Aquilini’s smiling assertion that the Canucks affiliate’s potential arrival was up to the Abbotsford mayor.
“The mayor doesn’t have a magic wand,” he said.
“There’s always hope, but to be honest with you, he (Aquilini) was just here to watch his team and see how his farm team’s doing.
“There are not talks ongoing with the Canucks, other than we were just talking about hockey in general. But you never know. I believe that it’s always good to be friendly, and they didn’t know where their suite was . . . so I took them to their suite and showed them their way.”
Banman did leave the door open for future negotiations between the city and the Canucks, “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. “In the meantime . . . they’ve got a job to do, and that’s to play hockey.
“I wish him many more times coming here, and I hope he falls in love with the building.”
The Heat and Comets play again on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.