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The AHL Moves West

After years of speculation, the American Hockey League is finally moving westward.

At a press conference today in San Jose, the league and several team officials announced the relocation of five East Coast franchises to California, creating the long-awaited Pacific Division. The ECHL will also receive a bit of a shake up, with some California teams moving east to start playing in the soon-to-be former AHL markets.

The moves begin with the San Jose Sharks, who will be moving the Worcester Sharks out of Massachusetts and into the SAP Center, giving Sharks fans twice the amount of hockey. A name for the new San Jose AHL club has not been announced.

The Anaheim Ducks are moving the Norfolk Admirals to San Diego, hopefully reviving the old San Diego Gulls name.

Edmonton, having bought out the Oklahoma City Barons, is putting them in Bakersfield. The ECHL's Condors will be swapping coasts and moving to Virginia, playing as the Norfolk Admirals next season. The Anaheim-affiliated Admirals were previously an ECHL club, forming in 1989 as the Hampton Roads Admirals and playing in Norfolk before joining the AHL in 2001.

The other two NHL clubs involved are simply swapping affiliate locations. Los Angeles will be moving the Ontario Reign up to the AHL, and the Manchester (NH) Monarchs down to the ECHL.

Calgary is doing the same, switching the Stockton Thunder and Adirondack (Glens Falls, NY) Flames up and down. Adirondack have scheduled a separate press conference for tomorrow morning, but the Glens Falls Post-Star is reporting that a deal is already in place.

These are moves that west coast NHL clubs have been pushing for for a long time. Other teams have been relocating their AHL clubs closer to the parent, most recently the a Wild moving their AHL affiliate from Houston to Iowa. When you can turn a cross-country plane trip to a relatively quick car ride, emergency call ups are a lot less of a hassle to a club. Teams will be dressing local goalie coaches (or Arturs Irbe) less, even though that's always pretty cool.

This will effect San Jose much more than the other clubs, but having your AHL team nearby gives your fanbase an inexpensive option to see your best up-and-coming players. Being in a firmly Bruins-supported area and not too far from their AHL team in Rhode Island, Worcester was never going to be a great fit for the Sharks. Ditto LA, with a team also stuck in Bruins country, New Hampshire.

This probably is not the end of Pacific Division growth. The Coyotes are currently stuck with an AHL team in Portland, ME, while the Canucks' affiliate are the Utica Comets, in central New York. Colorado has also previously expressed a desire to move the Lake Erie Monsters (in Cleveland) closer to Denver.

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