UTICA, N.Y. (WUTR-TV) — The Devils are coming back.
The Utica Comets announced Thursday that the team has agreed to a 10-year affiliation deal with the New Jersey Devils American Hockey League franchise, a move that will keep AHL hockey in Utica.
The Comets also announced that the 2021-22 home opener will be October 17, 2021, exactly 34 years since the Devils’ AHL team originally opened in Utica. The Utica Devils were Utica’s first AHL team, playing at the Adirondack Bank Center from 1987-1993.
Utica Comets President Robert Esche told Eyewitness Sports Director David Edelstein on Wednesday that he was “confident” that fans would feel “comfortable” with what was to come next for the Comets.
Many New Jersey Devils fans remain in the Utica area, a result of the Utica Devils’ presence in the late-20th century and New Jersey’s proximity to Utica.
Comfortability was a main concern, according to the Comets’ press release Thursday, saying that a “main component” of the affiliation deal is that the team will keep the name “Utica Comets”–a break from the Devils’ organizations long-standing tradition of also naming their AHL affiliate the Devils, including previously in Utica itself–with “jersey designs and colors to be revealed later this year.”
Proximity is also one of the main factors that has led to the new agreement. The Vancouver Canucks have had their AHL franchise in Utica since the 2013-14 season, requiring cross-continent, international flights any time Vancouver sent a player to or recalled a player from Utica.
Utilizing a built-in opt-out in their six-year extension with the Utica Comets, the Canucks are now moving their AHL affiliate to Abbotsford, BC, Canada, just down the road from Vancouver itself. This opened the door for the Devils–who have recently clashed with their current Binghamton location, per reports–to move to Utica.
The Canucks had originally tried to move their AHL franchise to Abbotsford, per reports from 2013, but were unable to do so, as the then-Calgary-AHL-affiliate Abbotsford Heat opted to remain in Abbotsford instead of move to Utica. Playing in Utica has led to the higher costs and time constraints of travel for players, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic has only furthered restrictions and time delays due to quarantine policies when crossing the boarder.
Moving affiliates closer to their parent clubs is a recent trend in the AHL and across minor league sports in general. Take the Vegas Golden Knights moving the San Antonio Rampage to Henderson, NV and rebranding them as the Henderson Golden Knights. See also the New York Mets switching from top-Minor-League affiliate Las Vegas 51s to Syracuse as the current Syracuse Mets in 2019.
The New Jersey Devils have previously had their affiliate in Albany, NY as well. Now, a new tenure in Utica is set to begin.
The AHL says full schedules and league alignment will be announced later this year.
The 2021-22 AHL season begins on Oct. 15, 2021, according to the league.
(CORRECTION: This article originally stated that the Vegas Golden Knights had purchased the Chicago Wolves, relocated them and turned them into the Henderson Silver Knights.)