Colorado Eagles in discussions to become the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate

Colorado Eagles in discussions to become the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate

The Avalanche might move its primary minor-league interests from San Antonio to less than an hour drive north of Denver, to Loveland, joining forces with the Colorado Eagles, who could become the Avs’ American Hockey League affiliate as early as 2018-19.

The Eagles, the Avs’ current ECHL affiliate who recently won the Kelly Cup as ECHL champions, are mulling opportunities for AHL membership, according to president and general manager Chris Stewart, and hoping to increase their partnership with Colorado’s NHL team. The ECHL is considered Double-A, a level below the AHL.

“There have been some discussions,” Stewart said of Eagles’ AHL venture with the Avalanche. “Obviously, the proximity and logistics, there’s a lot of sense for an affiliation that could possibly take us to the American Hockey League. I can’t confirm anything at this point, by any means, because there are way too many moving parts.”

The Eagles’ AHL opportunity became available because of the NHL expansion Vegas Golden Knights, who will share the AHL’s Chicago Wolves with the St. Louis Blues in 2017-18 before the Blues sign elsewhere. There will be 31 NHL teams next season, but just 30 AHL teams.

St. Louis could conceivably replace the Avalanche as the San Antonio Rampage’s parent team in 2018-19. The Avs will continue to place their top prospects in San Antonio for the upcoming season, and beyond if the deal with the Eagles doesn’t work out.

Because the Avs remain under contract with the Rampage, they declined to comment about the Eagles and the AHL.

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“We are interested. The Avalanche has some interest,” Stewart said of the possible AHL relationship. “Whether or not that works with their San Antonio agreement or not, I don’t know. Like I said, there are a lot of moving parts. But we would want that affiliate at another level.”

He added: “When you’re talking with the NHL, and especially the Avalanche, which has done so much for the good of hockey in the state of Colorado, I don’t want to step out of line. We’re very respectful of the Avalanche and what they’ve done for hockey, and the Eagles, as hockey continues to grow in this state.”

The Eagles play at the 5,289-seat Budweiser Events Center, a county-owned facility, and have sold out 431 home games in 14 seasons. The Budweiser Events Center opened in 2003 and seats 7,200 for concerts but just 5,289 for hockey. The Hershey Bears led the AHL in attendance this past season with an average of 9,309, but 18 teams averaged just less than 6,000.

“I don’t believe that the AHL would accept the building as it sits today,” Stewart said of the Eagles’ arena. “I’m not just talking about seats. The facility in general, the locker rooms, I do think there would have to be some mitigation done to the building to help facilitate an American Hockey League franchise if we went in that direction.”

Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic and AHL commissioner David Andrews attended Eagles home games last season.

“People saw those gentlemen there, watching the game,” Stewart said. “They’re public figures, and there with a sharp, keen eye, wanting to see how we presented the game. They liked it, from what everything they had to say to myself and (Eagles owner) Martin Lind. We love to put on a good show and our fans are electrifying. They really bring energy into that building every night.”

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