Introducing the Utica Comets of the AHL

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The return of an AHL franchise to Utica, New York, was made official today.

The Vancouver Canucks’ minor-league affiliate, henceforth known as the Comets, will play at the Utica Memorial Auditorium beginning in the 2013-14 season.

“We look forward to a new AHL affiliation and the development of our prospects in Utica, New York,” said Canucks President and General Manager Mike Gillis in a release. “There was a strong interest in bringing an AHL team back to Utica and a real commitment to provide a positive environment for the growth and success of players in the Canucks system.”

It’s still not clear how long the Canucks will be tied to Utica. It’s widely believed Abbotsford — a suburb of Vancouver currently home to the Flames’ AHL affiliate (the Heat) — remains their preferred market for the long-term. On that note, it’s been speculated that the Flames and Canucks could simply end up swapping, assuming a deal that works for all parties, financially and logistically, can be reached.

For now, the Canucks are focusing on the positives of Utica.

“Utica is located in the heart of the American Hockey League, it’s within a couple hours driving distance to half a dozen teams,” said assistant GM Laurence Gilman. “From a developmental model, it’s a great location to place an American Hockey League team because your team will be playing games and sleeping at home more nights, which translates to more days practicing. That’s truly a win-win for everyone.”