Why Langley Needs Vancouver’s AHL Team

With the AHL
expanding into the California sun next year, and every team in the Pacific – save Vancouver – moving their affiliates westward, the Canucks are
going to eventually follow suit. Utica just doesn’t make sense anymore with all of Vancouver’s closest NHL competitors
with an obvious geographic advantage, so there is one place that the Canucks should
move their AHL affiliate to: Langley, British Columbia and the recently constructed Langley Events Centre. 

With a beautiful new facility and a growing community
surrounding it, it would be hard for the Canucks to find a more viable suitor for their farm
team. Just think about it, the chance to see rising stars like Nicklas Jensen
and Tom Sestito Hunter Shinkaruk in your own backyard. Now, I know what you’re
thinking. “Matthew,
we tried this before with Abbotsford, how is this any different?” Well, hypothetical questioner, I have answers
for you. 

First and foremost, geographically Abbotsford is poorly positioned to take advantage of denser populations closer to Surrey and Vancouver – a beautiful facility built in the middle of nowhere, and British
Columbia’s
equivalent to Glendale, with less sand and more taxes. It’s approximately 70 kilometres or an hour’s drive out of the
downtown core of Vancouver, whereas the aforementioned Langley is a far more comfortable 55 kilometres and half an hour away, and surrounded by a multitude of other options. Population-wise, there’s not much of a difference between the two municipalities, give or take a
couple thousand. 

The key to the success of this is families.
Langley is one of the fastest growing cities in the province and is surrounded by growing retail and housing offerings literally minutes away. With reasonable ticket prices and an
exciting team of potential future Canucks, AHL hockey is a surefire hit in the Langley core.
Nobody wanted to see the up-and-coming prospects of the rival Calgary Flames, but people will turn out from all across the lower mainland for a cheap ticket
to see the future boys in blue and green. 

The Vancouver Giants – Vancouver’s
main junior franchise – has
seen a dip in turn-out recently, thanks to a recent rebuilding period and
the cost of travel to Vancouver. With tolls and gas, it’s
not as cheap to get to a hockey game as it used to be. The Giants’ attendance numbers have dropped drastically since the 2012-13 season, in which they drew
7,205 on average. This season, they are drawing an average crowd of 5,375. My, have the times
changed. Speaking of the Giants, you can use them as the biggest example as to
why an AHL team in Langley will work. 

In 2010, the Giants took their talents to the Langley Events Centre while a big
event happened in Vancouver that you may have heard happened called the
Olympics. The attendance at the LEC was phenomenal, and that was prior to the real estate boom that happened to the city. While the current
tenants, the Langley Rivermen, have seen a steady climb in attendance since
they became a BCHL franchise, nothing compares to pro-level hockey, and the AHL
can provide that. 

In terms of capacity, the LEC houses 5,276 for a hockey game,
including suites. That puts them at about the middle of the pack, just below
the league average of 5,362, a number that is nicely padded by the powerhouse
Hershey Bears, which draw on average about 1,500 more than any other franchise.

It’s a no-brainer. Langley needs the AHL, Utica must be relocated, and most of all, the Canucks need Langley.

  • Larionov18

    I can’t see this happening because of the travel. One of the advantages of Utica is that they are close to their opponents and it cuts down on travel time and fatigue. Since all of the Pacific division is based in California, the Canucks really have only two options: stay in Utica where they would be close to their current North division and conference opponents or relocate to California where they would be close to their Pacific division rivals. Moving to Langley is sentimental but not in the best interests of player development.

    • YouppiKiYay

      Canucks are committed to Utica for one more season before there is an out in the affiliate arrangement. I think you’ll see two things happen in the meantime that make moving the Canucks affiliate to the Lower Mainland make more sense.

      1) The AHL is supposedly going to reduce the number of scheduled games, increasing practice time and making travel between cities less of an issue.

      2) Colorado and Arizona will also move their affiliates out west, reducing the advantages in having an affiliate in the Northeast US.

      The AHL is transitioning from a Northeastern-based bus league to a league with teams located closer to their NHL parents. The ECHL is moving in to markets vacated by the AHL, and I expect the same thing to happen in Utica if the Comets leave.

    • YouppiKiYay

      Vancouver was in on the push for the western division 5 years ago.
      They are moving west no question. Answer is where.
      Even Utica Comet fans know this to be so.

  • YouppiKiYay

    You could argue falling attendance for Giants games has something to do with how the team has performed, not just the cost of traveling from the Valley to Vancouver.

    If, as was rumored at the time, the Aquilini family is looking to buy the Abbotsford Center, then that’s where the team will go. There will be more than enough ticket buyers from Surrey and Langley willing to make the trip to Abbotsford. It’s not like there will be much walk up business. The Abbotsford Center holds 7,000, and I think it’ll be more or less sold out every night if the Canucks farm team ends up there.

    • Mantastic

      The Heat only sold out once during the lockout and no it wasn’t against the Wolves (previous Canucks AHL team) but the Barons. A lower mainland AHL team will not sell out or come close nightly as you might think.

      • YouppiKiYay

        Sorry but info re sell outs during lock out is incorrect. The OKC Barons & Chicago Wooves both sold out. Near capacity include both as well along with Hamilton & Marlies. Canuck affiliate games over 5 years was never below 5k

      • YouppiKiYay

        Totally agree with your comment YouppuKiYay. Fans that believe Canucks farm team would sell out every night need to look at the attendance figures for the six games they played in Abby last season. Only one of the six sold out, and the averaged attendance for the other 5 worked out at about 4500/game.

        Also, FWIW, Heat sold out 3 times during the lockout, and came close to sell out on 3 other occasions. OKC Barons X2 and Wolves X1 for sellouts, and the other 3 Wolves games were close.

      • allsportsfan

        The Heat only sold out once during the lockout and no it wasn’t against the Wolves (previous Canucks AHL team) but the Barons. A lower mainland AHL team will not sell out or come close nightly as you might think.

        The Heat didn’t sell out because they were owned by the Flames. The city of Abbotsford must not have had any Canuck fans working there because I could have told you that was the craziest idea like the Communist Party being the ruling party of Canada.

        I know several people like me who would have drove out to Abby to go watch the baby Canucks. There is a population base of over 1 million east of the Port Mann bridge so there should be enough people to fully support the up and coming Canucks.

      • elvis15

        That’s incorrect. In the 2012/13 season the Heat sold out multiple games, including the 2nd Wolves game in a back to back weekend in October. They then sold out two back to back games against the Barons in November. Other than those three sold out games, they also had games with attendance of 98.4%, 97.5%, 93.5% (all against the Wolves), 92.3% (Marlies) and 87.6% (Americans). All four of the Wolves games in Abby that year were in the top 6 of highest attended games – including two in January as the lockout ended.

        http://www.hockeyattendance.com/team/abbotsford-heat/2012/

        Just to give you an idea of what that actually means, all those games were attended by more fans than the Langley arena’s capacity. The Rochester Americans game had 6172 tickets sold. And there were three sell outs of 7046 tickets.

        There were certainly some very poorly attended games against teams no one in Abbotsford cared about, but when so few people care about the home team because it’s the farm team of an NHL rival that’s to be expected. Sometimes one of the back to back home games was poorly attended even against good teams (Marlies, Bulldogs, etc.) but that’s a reality for many AHL teams.

        However, I’m not suggesting a Canucks farm team here would guarantee a sell out every game either. But it would draw a significantly larger fan base than a rival team’s farm club would, and I know I’d be one of those fans interested in seasons tickets if they did come. The hockey fans in general that were attending Heat games would pay, as would the Canucks fans in the valley, and also Canucks fans who can’t afford the cost of an NHL game.

  • wojohowitz

    I live in Langley, and approximately 75% of the municipality is composed of beer drinking, truck driving, hockey playing redneck Canuck fans who would go loopy for the comets.

  • Larionov18

    It’s worth pointing out that while LEC is a great venue, it would need quite an upgrade in equipment (i.e. Jumbotron/cameras) and team facilities to be AHL ready, whereas Abbotsford Centre would be ready to go.

    Either way, having AHL hockey back in the lower mainland would be awesome and I’ll be signing up for season tickets whether the team ends up in Abbotsford or Langley.

  • Larionov18

    Langley would be way better than Abbotsford. Much closer for most people. I hope Utica gets a new team though as they are a great group of fans. I stream the odd game and the home fans are great.

  • YouppiKiYay

    Langley facility isn’t able to handle an AHL team. Capacity too low, and compared to other Jr A teams the Langley team draws peanuts. If they soldout the Jr A team most (some) nights it could be possible. But they don’t. If they sold out/made something special of there professional lacrosse team (The Stealth) it could be possible. But they’re lowered their standards. Langley is a flash in the pan, looks pretty but not sustainable.

  • elvis15

    Ideally they would stay in Utica.

    The AHL, even with the western expansion, is still predominantly a bus league. The Comets’ move to the AHL’s eastern conference next year (as a result of the western expansion) will result in far less travel, and therefore more development time.

    A Langley team would result in a significantly greater amount of travel time. Even with the western expansion it could very well be that they would be expose to a greater travel schedule than even the Canucks.

    Utica has been excellent for both Utica and the Canucks so far. The Canucks should not risk upsetting this, especially when location may be influencing the retention of Travis Green (who one should remember was offered an assistant position in Pittsburgh last offseason but turned it down to stay with Utica). We have multiple years left on the contract with Utica, and a reasonable person should say we should see how the western expansion proceeds, and how the deleterious effects of travel are managed by those teams before making a snap decision to move the farm team 4 hours of flight time across the continent.

    • elvis15

      I agree there would be more travel (which would cut into time for practice and lead to less development time) but the offset to that is they would be a short drive away from Canucks coaches, trainers, physios, doctors, etc. I don’t know if one would offset the other, but it can’t be overlooked.

      The other point I’d make is Green was coaching the Portland WinterHawks prior to being hired in Utica. He was also born in Castlegar, BC, played WHL hockey for Spokane and Medicine Hat, and even had some Western NHL teams on his resume (Anaheim and Phoenix). He wouldn’t have an issue being out West.

      And as far as I know, we have one year remaining (not multiple years) on our Utica commitment after this season. I’d like to think they stay in Utica, but if the Western division really does go well, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they moved them at least to California to be within driving distance of the other teams.