There will be another hockey team in Calgary next season.
The Calgary Flames’ request to move their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Stockton Heat, to Calgary starting in the 2022-23 season has been approved by the AHL Board of Governors. The Heat have been at their current home of Stockton, California since 2015, but this new deal will bring the squad back to Western Canada for the first time since 2014 when the Heat left Abbotsford, British Columbia. This is the first time that the Flames will have their minor league team in Calgary in the history of the franchise, and having the team in the same city will offer a number of benefits.
Direct Coaching and Development
The best AHL teams, from an overall franchise’s standpoint, are the ones that properly develop young players in a way that transforms them into NHL assets. Having the Heat play in Calgary makes the coaching staff and front office’s jobs much more efficient. Not only is it much easier to make it to games in person when you’re travelling within the city rather than the 2,312 kilometres that it takes to get to Stockton, but it also allows a more hands-on approach to moulding the future of your franchise. NHL brass can collaborate with their AHL equivalents to really create a system that can allow for all aspects of development to be able to connect in a way that not only benefits the organization but the players as well.
Learning to Understand the Calgary Market
Learning to play for Calgary also means living in Calgary, and moving the AHL franchise to the same city as the parent club is an effective way to acclimatize young players into the city, market, and climate. Especially with players coming from either Europe or the United States, there will always be an adjustment period to the new surroundings.
Having an affiliate in Calgary means that players can grow into the organization in a lower-stakes environment, which will not directly affect the NHL team’s fortunes the way it would if they had to go through that growth once they reached the next level. It takes the pressure off individuals who may struggle to fit in, and it allows them to get integrated into the community early.
NHL Call-up Considerations
Likely the most practical reason to have an affiliate in the same city as the big league team is that it allows for easier player transactions. Especially in the case of injury, recalling a player who is already in the immediate area can allow teams to not have to worry about shuttling players across the country in order to make it for game time.
The more human side of this move is that it prevents players such as Adam Ruzicka or Byron Froese, who can at times be going back and forth between teams, from having to maintain two different homes and lifestyles and having to travel cross-country. This, while not having a direct effect on play on the ice, makes your organization more appealing to potential players, and can also foster a sense of security among current players that can allow them to focus on their play first. More practically, it can let the Flames have a much easier time recalling players in an emergency situation or in the case of a back-to-back, which is always needed through a long season with injuries and roster moves aplenty.
Flames Prospects Get Canadian Media Training
It is no secret that Canadian hockey media and fans can be suffocating at times. Moving the Heat to Calgary allows for young players to get acclimated to the attention, adoration, and scrutiny that can come with playing in a dedicated hockey market. This goes both ways, however, as there will be more eyes and attention placed on what could one day be future Flames. Prospects will also get used to the media environment in a smaller dose to prepare them for what they’ll experience in the future. It also will give fans an opportunity to connect with future Flames more intimately and see players develop and grow within their own city. There is potential for a very tight-knit collective of teams in Calgary with the Heat, Flames, and the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen.
The Heat are not done in Stockton just yet, however. They are currently in the third round of the AHL Playoffs against the Colorado Eagles. How fitting would it be if they could end their Stockton era with a championship?
Jacob is a Flames writer who has been covering hockey at both the collegiate and NHL levels for the last 8 years, and is a graduate of Western University.