Vancouver Canucks: The positives of having a farm team in Utica

ROCHESTER, NY - December 13: Rochester Americans defenseman Matt Tennyson (11) fights for a loose puck with Utica Comets center Cameron Darcy (11) during an AHL game between the Utica Comets and the Rochester Americans on December 13, 2017, at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, NY. (Jerome Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ROCHESTER, NY - December 13: Rochester Americans defenseman Matt Tennyson (11) fights for a loose puck with Utica Comets center Cameron Darcy (11) during an AHL game between the Utica Comets and the Rochester Americans on December 13, 2017, at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, NY. (Jerome Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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The Utica Comets location has long been criticized by Vancouver Canucks fans, but it’s led to plenty of positives for the organization.

The Vancouver Canucks have had a complicated history with their minor league affiliates, and up until the Utica Comets — the AHL teams were all independently owned. The Comets are owned and operated by the Vancouver Canucks, allowing more fluidity throughout the organization.

The journey from Utica, New York, to Vancouver is a lengthy one and it means that emergency same day call-ups are practically impossible. This has led to ECHL and university goalies being called up to the Canucks. Far from the ideal situation.

While the Utica setup is not what one would dream of, there is an abundance of advantages to having the team in northern New York. I’ve already mentioned the overarching reason why its a good thing, and that is because the Comets are operated by the Canucks.

When the organization was affiliated with teams such as the Manitoba Moose and Chicago Wolves, there would be many administrative headaches, as well as conflicting goals between the AHL ownership and NHL operation.

The AHL ownership would put a premium on winning, leading to more experienced veteran players getting ice team — whereas the NHL team would want their prospects to develop. With the older Iteration of the affiliation, the Canucks were unable to develop their young talents in the AHL. Whereas with Utica, they have full control over that.

Yes, the club owned AHL team could be in a much more convenient location, but that is a topic that we have already discussed. With the situation as it currently stands, we have to find positives. And there are three positives which stand out to me when it comes to having a team in Utica.

Smaller municipality adjustment

Utica is not a very big city, with a population of around 60,000, the city is not overwhelming to young players. The AHL is most players’ first taste of professional hockey, and the pro game is a much different day to day experience the major junior or college.

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In major junior, players are living with billet parents, are not in charge of your own life and do not have to make many decisions. There is help from the club on all those fronts. In college, you have school to worry about and all the other aspects that come with college.

When a player turns pro, they experience a lot of changes. Suddenly, their life revolves completely around hockey, and the sport takes up every day on their lives.

Both college and major junior play their games mainly on weekends, whereas the AHL is a player’s first exposure to weeknight hockey.

Having a small community allows the players to not be overwhelmed by a big city, and to be able to focus on hockey as well as being an independent living athlete.

Less travel

It is well-known that the Canucks do far more traveling than most other NHL clubs. If the AHL team were to be on the west coast, they would face a similar challenge. While the travel would be less, since the American league does not play cross-conference, it would still be substantially more than Utica.

Currently, the Comets are able to bus to most of their away games, and the distances are fairly manageable. This allows the players to be home more often, which would obviously lead to more comfort and easier adjustment on an individual basis.

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As for the team, it means the Comets get more practice. The time that would be spent travelling if the team were on the west coast is less time than the team would have on the ice. The west coast travel time would also have to come on an airplane, furthering the operating expenses of the AHL franchise.

Having less travel makes for an overall happier atmosphere around the team, and allows for substantially more practice time for the team. This should lead to more development of young players, in hand with also aiding the winning ambitions of the AHL club.

Support for the team

The Comets have some of the best fans in all of the AHL. After last season, the Comets are now the record holders for the longest ever sellout streak in the league, with 169 regular season and playoff games making up that streak.

The arena is old, but the fans consistently pack it every home game and create an atmosphere that is not rivaled by any other in the AHL. Back in 2018, former Canucks president visited the Trevor Linden paid a visit and experienced this amazing hockey atmosphere for himself.

“There’s a real life at a Comets game” Linden said about the fanbase, before further suggesting that the location is the only drawback.

The support is welcomed by many players as they feel welcomed into the community, and are the adopted sons of Utica. Former Comet Darren Archibald was a fan favourite, and the relationship was mutual. Archibald was outgoing with his affection for the city. He now plays for the Toronto Marlies.

The close-knit community and dedicated fanbase make the Utica municipality a perfect place for prospects to develop, and an ideal location for an AHL team.

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It would certainly be nice if there was the possibility of having all these good things in a better location, but it is simply not possible. Utica is the best location for the Canucks farm team right now, and the community has done so much that they deserve to have the team. It has its complications, but in the end, the pros outweigh the cons. It’s no wonder the Canucks and the Comets agreed to extend their deal in 2018 to a maximum of 2024.