Utica will get a new AHL hockey team

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UTICA — Utica will remain an American Hockey League city. The AHL's Board of Governors voted at its spring meeting Thursday to approve the relocations of the Vancouver Canucks' franchise in Utica to Abbotsford, British Columbia, and the relocation of the New Jersey Devils' franchise from Binghamton to Utica. Both teams will begin next season in their new homes.

The Canucks will relocate their AHL affiliate from Utica much closer to its NHL rink. New Jersey will return its AHL affiliate from Binghamton to Utica's Adirondack Bank Center almost three decades after the Utica Devils left.

The Utica Devils called the Utica Aud home from 1987 to 1993. That team was purchased by the Calgary Flames and moved to Canada. The Devils' next AHL team was the Albany River Rats. The next team to come to Utica was the Colonial Hockey League's Utica Bulldogs. A season later, they folded and the Utica Blizzard replaced them. The Comets came to Utica in 2013.

Last month, Comets President Robert Esche filed a trademark for the "Utica Devils," a move that prompted speculation that the Devils would move the team from Binghamton.

Thursday's announcement noted that New Jersey and Utica have a 10-year deal in place, though the plan is to keep the team name the Utica Comets. "The club will remain the Utica Comets with an unveiling of jersey designs and colors to follow at a later date," New Jersey noted in its announcement. The franchise noted that a "main component" to the deal was "ensuring that the team would still be called the Utica Comets."

Devils President Jake Reynolds and Executive Vice President-General Manager Tom Fitzgerald announced in a statement: “After multiple discussions and evaluating the options available for the future of our American Hockey League franchise, we have agreed to partner with local operating group Mohawk Valley Garden in Utica, NY, led by Comets President Robert Esche, to relocate our AHL franchise starting with the 2021-22 season. We are pleased to announce that this is a ten-year partnership which establishes a mutual commitment between our organization and the city of Utica. We look forward to creating new memories for the fans as the next generation of Devils’ stars develop their professional careers at the Adirondack Bank Center. Working with Robert and his team will be an exciting opportunity as we look to build upon the passion and enthusiasm that they’ve created in making Utica one of the top markets in the AHL."

Esche said: “We could not be happier for the opportunity to partner with the New Jersey Devils, an organization with a rich history not only in the NHL but also in our own community. The spirit of Comets hockey and the culture our fans have created will continue to grow as it has for decades and evolve through the next ten years, and we are honored to be a part of that with the Devils. As we look towards successfully developing some of the NHL’s top prospects, we eagerly anticipate this new chapter of Comets hockey.”

"Over the past seven years, the residents of our community demonstrated their love for hockey and made it clear Utica was a viable and appealing option to support an American Hockey League franchise," said Utica Mayor Robert M. Palmieri in a statement. "This was evident today as the Board of Governors approved the relocation of the New Jersey Devils AHL franchise from Binghamton to Utica." He continued: "We welcome the Devils back to Utica with open arms. I commend Rob Esche for the great work he has done in bringing professional hockey to Utica as it is a quality of life asset our residents deserve and a catalyst for continued economic development."

To commemorate the first day the Utica Devils took the ice in 1987, the new team will open at home on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021 — exactly 34 years since the Devils’ AHL hockey debut in Utica.

The Utica Devils' six seasons produced four Calder Cup playoff appearances. A number of players from that team went on to help the New Jersey Devils build the foundation of a run of three Stanley Cup championships, including Martin Brodeur, Jim Dowd, Bill Guerin, Tommy Albelin, Bobby Holik and Chris Terreri. There were 111 players in the history of the Utica Devils, and 77 of them played in the NHL.

The Comets are scheduled to host the Syracuse Crunch Friday at 7 p.m. They have six games left on the schedule this season.

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