The Carolina Hurricanes are getting a good look at their future this season, shuttling prospects from Raleigh to Albany and back. In the future, the commute could be a lot shorter.
AHL President and CEO Dave Andrews gave his annual state of the league address in Portland, Maine — host of the this year's AHL All-Star festivities — and one of the topics of discussion was the Hurricanes’ desire to have their minor league affiliate closer to Raleigh. The No. 1 choice? It seems to be Charlotte, currently home of the ECHL's Checkers.
Pete Dougherty from the Albany Times-Union reports on what would need to happen — and what it would mean for Albany — for Carolina to house their top prospects in North Carolina, with it boiling down to relocating a current team. For now, the Hurricanes aren't talking — the official word from media relations is "no comment" — but the possibility of having the Canes' top affiliate in the state is an "everybody wins" scenario for all parties (except the people of Albany, though the River Rats wouldn't necessarily, or even probably, be the relocated franchise).
There have also been discussions about a new arena in Charlotte, with the Checkers — or perhaps another hockey team? — as the main tenant.
There are several benefits to having an in-state affiliate: speedier call-ups to the Triangle; easier access for Raleigh-based team management — and Canes fans — to the team and players; and further growth of hockey in the South.
And on that last point, having an AHL affiliate in Charlotte would bridge the gap between the state's two biggest cities. Despite being the "Carolina" Hurricanes, the organization has been Raleigh's team, not the Carolinas' or even the state's. If interest in the AHL team blossomed — and a city as big as Charlotte should have no problem supporting a Triple A-level minor league hockey team — there would be an immediate connection between Charlotte and the Hurricanes, helping to further grow the fan base.
Not only could it expand the number of people interested in the Hurricanes, but it could cultivate youth hockey throughout the state — an effort that has been successful in Raleigh and is critical to the long-term success of Sun Belt hockey.