In case you haven’t heard, the NHL is expanding to Las Vegas next season. Given the crucial role that the AHL plays in any team’s system, the AHL will need to expand also, and because of Las Vegas’ geographical location their affiliate will almost certainly play with the Roadrunners in the Pacific Division.
Like this one, all articles about Las Vegas’ future AHL affiliate are purely speculative. Most rumored locations in the articles that I have seen have included Salt Lake City, Reno, and Fresno, California, but in this article, I would like to take a look at an ideal location that I haven’t seen anyone else mention: Prescott, Arizona.
Prescott has a history of minor league Hockey, being home to the Central Hockey League’s Arizona Sundogs from 2006 to 2014. The team played it home games at the Prescott Valley Event Center and consistently drew good crowds throughout its franchise history. Unfortunately, when the double-A level Central Hockey League folded and was partially absorbed by the ECHL in 2014, it left the market vacant.
Prescott is closer than Fresno and Reno doesn’t have any significant history of minor league hockey (other than a 3 year stint by the WCHL’s Reno Renegades, which ended in the team folding), and have other minor league franchises that an AHL team would have to compete with. This would probably hurt the team’s profitability and popularity. Salt Lake City on the other hand, most likely wouldn’t work because the market is already severed by the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies. Which means that the Vegas ownership group would have to buy the Grizzlies and move them, something they’re probably not willing to do.
At about 4 hours, Prescott is a closer drive by car to Las Vegas than any of the previously mentioned cities by at least 2 hours (Salt Lake City is the next closest at 6 hours). This would give Las Vegas’ GM George McPhee the same advantages that the Coyotes organization has by having their AHL affiliate in Tucson. It would allow him and the rest of Las Vegas management the chance to take a short drive, monitor and guide their prospects’ development.
The Sundogs also left behind a great arena. The Prescott Valley Event Center is a 4,810 seat arena, purpose-built for minor league hockey complete with luxury boxes. The Coyotes even considered putting the Roadrunners franchise there before ultimately deciding on Tucson. The only obstacle would be having to share the arena with Northern Arizona Suns of the NBA d-League. But that shouldn’t be an issue, this problem would also exist in Fresno and Reno, and the Texas Stars already do this without any major issues. Some AHL teams such as the San Antonio Rampage and the Clevland Monsters even share arenas with NBA teams.
Given the past success of minor league Hockey in the Prescott area, their stadium, and its convenient geographical location it seems like a no-brainer for Las Vegas to put their AHL affiliate there. To help their brand by tapping into an existing fanbase, Las Vegas could buy the rights to the Sundogs name and revive the franchise; the Anaheim Ducks did the same in 2015 with the Gulls.
What it means for the Roadrunners
With Prescott only being three hours away, a team there would be a natural rival to the Roadrunners. A rivalry would be incredibly exciting for Roadrunner fans and players and with Phoenix and Las Vegas being extremely close and the two largest and most important desert cities, I could see the Prescott-Tucson rivalry becoming a part of a greater Phoenix-Las Vegas rivalry in the future.
Stay tuned for Las Vegas’ future announcement of their AHL affiliation.
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