California’s hockey uprisingBy: Mitch Peacock | Published: January 25th 2016
California is known as the “Golden State”, but you could call it “The State of Hockey – West”.
As the Moose make their way through California over the course of the final six games of eight straight away from home, it’s becoming clear that hockey is very alive in this part of the United States.
Stockton Heat broadcaster Brandon Kisker* noted recently that Cali is home to more teams at the top two levels of pro hockey than any other state.
Think about that.
Obviously, the population is substantial here, but that still has to catch you a little by surprise; doesn’t it?
At the NHL level you’ve got the Ducks, Kings, and Sharks.
And, as of this season, at the AHL level there at teams in San Diego, Ontario, Bakersfield, San Jose, and Stockton.
Eight elite pro teams in a state you first connect with sun, beaches, show biz, and Disneyland; almost anything but hockey.
And don’t think this is a boom headed for a bust either. American Hockey League President and CEO David Andrews said last week on a visit to Stockton that there’s more AHL to come out west.
“I would be very surprised if you know in three years there weren’t at least a couple more teams here in the west. And I also think we have to wait and see what happens with NHL expansion.”
President Andrews said there’s already a desire at the big league level to have more AHL in the west with additional re-locations to this area possible within a few years.
Oh and if the NHL was to expand with a team or two in the west (Las Vegas or Seattle or both)? Make no mistake, there would be an immediate need to expand the AHL footprint in this part of the country; something also confirmed by the American League’s top executive.
Attendance is strong in virtually all of the new AHL markets in the newly-created Pacific Division and the Ducks, Kings, and Sharks don’t seem to have trouble selling tickets either.
Clearly not everyone is into hockey in California, but many people are and they’re a dedicated lot.
Heck, at dinner at the rink in Stockton the other night people were talking about going to Oakland Seals games years ago and enjoying various pro teams in San Francisco in the past. Plus, you couldn’t help but see a wide assortment of jerseys in the stands from classic Kings’ purple-and-gold to an array of other NHL unis.
But what about the game at the grassroots?
Moose rookies Eric Comrie and Chase De Leo are just a couple of many young prospects emerging from California these days and they say the game is only growing at the youth level.
Both young Jets’ prospects point to the work of California’s NHL teams in growing the game and say retiring NHL’ers opting to stay in the state are playing key roles in training kids to be their best on the ice out here.
Arizona State has recently earned Division 1 status for NCAA hockey, and it would surprise very few if that sparked an ice age at colleges and universities here in California too.
It’s hard to say exactly what the future holds, but it looks very much like the game is in good shape on the west coast and set to grow even stronger.
I guess that means there’s room for more than one “State of Hockey” in the U.S. and that’s a good thing!
The Moose continue their tour of California with a game in Bakersfield Tuesday, January 26th and you can catch the action LIVE on moosehockey.com starting with the pre-game show at 8:45 pm Central time.
The game is also available for viewing via AHL Live on theahl.com
*special thanks to play-by-play broadcaster Brandon Kisker of the Stockton Heat, his interview with AHL President David Andrews was a valuable source of information for this article and can be found on Twitter @AHLHeat or at stocktonheat.com/news