A Brief History of Flames Farm Teams

Friday night saw the curtain fall on the Abbotsford Heat, as the Baby Flames fell 5-3 to the Grand Rapids Griffins and lost their best-of-five series by a 3-1 margin. Alas, poor Heat, we knew you about as well as any farm team in recent memory.

The AHL’s Board of Governors meet today to discuss a few things, and one of those things may be a new home for the Heat. Reports out of many New York area media agencies are that the Flames have an agreement in principle (or are working towards one) with the city of Glens Falls, NY, formerly home of the Adirondack Phantoms. Will things move along today? We shall see.

In the interim, here’s a brief sojourn down memory lane, as we profile the major affiliate clubs that the Flames have had up to this point.

BIRMINGHAM BULLS (CHL; 1980-81)

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The WHA folded the year before and the Bulls kept some players around while playing in the Central Hockey League before also folding mid-season in 1981. At that point, some players went to the Fort Worth Texans, Wichita Wind and Tulsa Oilers of the CHL, or the Nova Scotia Voyageurs of the AHL (Montreal’s farm team). The Atlanta Flames used the Bulls as a farm club the year prior, as well.

Tim Hunter played for the Bulls, along with Paul Henderson (who retired after the team folded).

OKLAHOMA CITY STARS (CHL; 1981-82)

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Another shared affiliate, as the Stars were (duh) the Minnesota North Stars’ farm club. Once again, this team folded after Calgary’s one season with them. But they at least finished the season.

COLORADO FLAMES (CHL; 1982-84)

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The Rockies moved to New Jersey, so this was the replacement hockey tenant for McNichols Arena and Calgary’s first full-time farm club. Lasted for two years, then team and league folded. The Colorado Flames did ready Mike Vernon and Al MacInnis for the NHL, so it’s not all bad.

MONCTON GOLDEN FLAMES (AHL; 1984-87)

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The Golden Flames produced future Flames head coaches Pierre Page and Terry Crisp. Several notable NHLers also cut their teeth in Moncton, including Joel Otto and Brett Hull. As was tradition by that point, the team folded in 1987, but broke the franchise record for affiliate longevity at three seasons.

SALT LAKE CITY GOLDEN EAGLES (IHL; 1987-93)

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The Flames move all their players to the IHL, as the Golden Eagles are an established pro team with a strong program. And a green and gold colour scheme. So Calgary replaces the green with red and throws prospects in there. They win a Turner Cup as IHL Champions in 1988 and make it to the finals again in 1989. Their parent club won the Presidents’ Trophy both of those years, to boot. Theoren Fleury is arguably the most prominent former Golden Eagle.

SAINT JOHN FLAMES (AHL; 1993-2003)

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Calgary’s longest-lasting affiliate had its ups-and-downs. In nine seasons, they won a Calder Cup, but failed to really produce huge stars. Biggest name to come out of Saint John? Cory Stillman. Still, they provided stability and provided a lot of depth players, but it should be noted that the Flames’ decline into NHL obscurity coincided with the Saint John Flames’ existence.

LOWELL LOCK MONSTERS (AHL; 2003-05)

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The Calgary Flames lost the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals because of their minor league team. Or lack thereof. The Flames shared an affiliate with the Carolina Hurricanes, and only were required (or afforded) to provide a certain number of bodies to the farm team. That meant that when injuries came a-callin’ in the 2004 playoffs, they ran out of healthy defensemen who knew how to play Flames hockey. And Brent Krahn got starts whenever Cam Ward was tired. The Hurricanes called the shots, so the Flames players got secondary treatment.

Mark Giordano began his pro career with the Lock Monsters, as did Chuck Kobasew.

OMAHA AK-SAR-BEN KNIGHTS (AHL; 2005-07)

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The wandering continued, as the Flames found a sole affiliation in Omaha, Nebraska. The Knights had a fantastic logo, but didn’t make much noise in the standings (or at the ticket window). They were dead-last in attendance in 2005-06 and third-from-last in 2006-07.

QUAD CITY FLAMES (AHL; 2007-09)

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More wandering, as the Knights shifted to Moline, Illinois – part of a cluster along with Davenport, Iowa, Bettendorft, Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois known as the Quad Cities. The QC Flames had a sweet logo, but also missed the playoffs in both of their seasons and didn’t draw that well. They were third and second last (respectively) in attendance during their two seasons in Moline.

ABBOTSFORD HEAT (AHL; 2009-14)

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Five years in an affiliate city! A new record (for the post-Saint John era)! And the Heat managed to (a) push a lot of talent into the NHL (notably T.J. Brodie and Lance Bouma, of late), but also (b) made the playoffs in three of their five seasons, ending a lengthy stretch of missing the playoffs for the farm team. Unfortunately, this made zero difference in the stands, and attendance remained in the AHL’s basement.

  • mk

    Five years in an affiliate city! A new record!

    Didn’t you say that St. John lasted for 9 years?

    Also, I’m pretty sure Omaha won their conference in 06/07. They lost in the first round of the playoffs, but they at least had some on-ice success.

  • mk

    A couple personal anecdotes about the Ak-Sar-Ben Knights:

    1. The Knights had the best logo of any farm team (IMO) in recent memory: definitely the best of the Flames’ farm teams. I use this for any hockey pool that needs a logo.

    2. I was in Nebraska the year after the team left there and was amazed at the number of Knights jerseys and signs I saw. We were on a road trip, and the local shop patched our leaking tire for free because we were Flames fans from Calgary. There are some legitimate hard-core hockey fans there, but not enough of them to support a team.

    3. The locals chuckle when asked what “Ak-Sar-Ben” is. Apparently, its somewhat of a local joke and they’ve named many teams/clubs/organizations with that moniker. Why? Because. (Edit: Yes, Ak-Sar-Ben is Nebraska backwards. Why don’t we have local teams/orgs called Yr-Ag-Lac?)

      • mk

        Yes, I know where the name comes from, but not why. I can’t think of any other place where they just flipped the name around, put in some hyphens and capital letters to create a new name.

        Maybe they should move the Heat to Cowtown and call them the Yr-Ag-Lac Cowboys. 🙂

          • mk

            To quote:

            “…On the train ride back from New Orleans, the Omahans named their new organization. ‘Why not reverse the name of our beloved state, since everything seems to be going backwards these days?’ Dudley Smith suggested. Another member suggested that since this group had saved the fair for the city, the organization should be called the ‘Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben.’ Thus, Ak-Sar-Ben was born.”

            That’s a golden find right there, my friend. I would props 10x if I could.

  • DoubleDIon

    Why don’t the Flames just move the affiliate to Calgary? It would be well supported and call ups would be seamless. I’d love to go and watch the kids play on the farm. Guaranteed at least 5k would come each night, maybe more. In Abby the team only have 2100 fans each night.

  • Subversive

    Is there a reason why they don’t just put the farm team in Calgary like Toronto does with the Marlies? They’d probably draw better crowds in Calgary than they will anywhere else. Is scheduling three teams in one arena just not feasible?

    Edit: I should really read the other comments closer before posting….