The Colorado Avalanche will have a new AHL affiliate starting in 2018, the team announced Tuesday. After months of speculation, the Colorado Eagles made the formal announcement they will be moving from the ECHL - where they are coming off a Kelly Cup Championship - to become the Avalanche’s primary minor league affiliate in the American Hockey League.
“The Eagles are a first-class organization with a history of winning,” Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic said. “We are excited that Avalanche fans can now see our top prospects competing and developing in an outstanding environment just up the road”.
Shortly after the NHL expanded to 31 teams with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights, knowing the American League would need to expand as well, the organization saw an opportunity to bring the AHL to Northern Colorado.
“We were in the works probably for the last year or year and a half,” Sakic said. “It made perfect sense for the 31st team to be here, and us be the affiliate. And now all 31 (NHL) teams are taken care of”.
The announcement was made at a special event held at the Budweiser Event Center in Loveland, the current home of the Eagles. The arena is in need of some upgrades to keep up with the high standards of the AHL.
“We want to be best in class,” Colorado Eagles CEO Martin said. “The most important for us is to bring locker rooms, training rooms and VIP rooms up to NHL quality. Ideally, we want to do it right away.”
When asked about the seating of the Budweiser Event Center, which currently only holds 5,289 when at capacity for hockey, Lind said he and his team are more concerned with overall venue capacity, more than a number of seats.
“Today’s fan doesn’t necessarily want to be chained to a seat," Lind explained. "They want to be in the building feel the energy and be part of the enthusiasm. To have venues, big overlooks, and corporate venues, that’s what we really think we’re gonna look for.”
Founded as a Central Hockey League expansion franchise in 2003, the Colorado Eagles would be a winning franchise for the better part of eight years in the CHL en route to collecting seven Division Championships, six Conference Championships, and two Ray Miron President’s Cups as league champions. In 2011, the organization was accepted as an expansion team in the ECHL. The team began an affiliation with the Winnipeg Jets organization in 2012-2013, and then with the Calgary Flames in 2014-2015.
During the summer of 2016, the team announced a new affiliation with the hometown Avalanche and it’s been a match made in heaven. During the Eagles’ first season within the Avalanche organization, the Eagles would tie the second-longest winning streak in league history - winning 17 in a row, finish second in the Mountain Division, and go on to win the Kelly Cup in dominating fashion, winning eight games in a row to sweep both the Conference Finals, and the Kelly Cup Finals.
Both the Colorado Avalanche and Colorado Eagles made it clear today that this is a move to the AHL with fans in mind. “Hockey in Colorado” was a phrase was mentioned on multiple occasions throughout the morning.
The Avalanche have previously held AHL affiliations with the Cornwall Aces, Hershey Bears, Lowell Lock Monsters, Albany River Rats and Cleveland Monsters - known as the Lake Erie Monsters at the time - before reaching an affiliation agreement with the San Antonio Rampage in an effort to bring it’s minor league players out west and closer to the parent club, making travel less strenuous on players moving back and forth between the two teams.
The San Antonio Rampage will continue to serve as Colorado’s AHL affiliate for the upcoming 2017-2018 season, while the Eagles will act as the organization’s ECHL affiliate for one final year.