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AHL Teams in NHL Arenas: Major Stages for the Minor Leagues

Bell MTS Place Manitoba Moose

Many AHL arenas are designed for a more minor-league feel, but a select number were made with the NHL in mind. The slate of AHL teams in NHL arenas includes two venues that are shared by active teams, as well as a pair of facilities that now host the AHL after housing an NHL club.

There are currently two AHL teams sharing arenas with NHL franchises, and in both cases the AHL club serves as the top farm club of its major league counterpart. In Winnipeg, the Manitoba Moose and Winnipeg Jets both play at Bell MTS Place. An identical situation plays out in San Jose, where the San Jose Barracuda and San Jose Sharks both call SAP Center their home.

Bell MTS Place originally opened in 2004 as an AHL facility that could be expanded if an NHL franchise arrived in Winnipeg. When the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg in 2011, the arena was reconfigured to meet NHL standards. That initially resulted in the Moose leaving Winnipeg for St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador—where they played as the IceCaps—but the franchise has since returned to Winnipeg. Discussions of building a new arena elsewhere for the AHL franchise did take place at one point—Thunder Bay, Ontario was one potential destination—though the Moose have been entrenched in Winnipeg since 2015.

Meanwhile, the Barracuda are a product of the AHL’s westward shift earlier in this decade. Following the 2014-15 season, the Worcester Sharks were relocated to San Jose by their NHL parent so that it could have a club in the newly formed AHL Pacific Division.

While those are two examples of NHL arenas that host AHL and NHL squads, a few once former NHL facilities are now home to AHL squads. Those two venues share one common link: the bygone Hartford Whalers of the NHL.

XL Center

Prior to relocating to North Carolina in 1997 to become the Carolina Hurricanes, the Whalers played at the Hartford Civic Center. The NHL has never returned to Hartford, but the void of professional hockey at the Whalers’ former home—now known as XL Center—was filled by the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack. That franchise has played in Hartford since relocating from Binghamton, NY in 1997.

Hartford Civic Center was not the home of the Whalers throughout their time in Hartford, with one lapse beginning when the arena’s roof collapsed under heavy snowfall in early 1978. That forced the Whalers, members of the WHA at that time, to move north to Springfield, MA’s Springfield Civic Center to play the remainder of their home games. The club played there in 1978-79 as well as the beginning of its inaugural 1979-80 NHL season, as the needed repairs to Hartford Civic Center did not conclude until early 1980.

Springfield Civic Center today remains an active venue but is now known as the MassMutual Center. The MassMutal Center plays home to the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds.

Those are the strongest examples of AHL teams at NHL arenas, but it should be noted that the league shares connections to active NBA facilities as well. That includes the San Antonio Rampage at AT&T Center and Cleveland Monsters at Quicken Loans Arena. In both cases, the AHL clubs fall under the same ownership as their respective NBA counterparts, the Spurs and Cavaliers. And, of course, there are examples of a WHL junior team sharing space with an NHL team: the Edmonton Oil Kings share Rogers Place with the Edmonton Oilers, and the Calgary Hitmen share Scotiabank Saddledome with the Calgary Flames. Meanwhile, the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks play a good share of their schedule at the Moda Center, home of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers.

Image of Bell MTS Place courtesy Manitoba Moose. Image of XL Center by Zach Spedden. 

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