If you are a hockey fan in metro Boston (or anywhere in southern New England) and you have yet to make it to an AHL game: for shame. The AHL is one of the best kept secrets in local sports, a much more affordable alternative to the Bruins, and with a good level of play to boot. At this point, you have 8 different teams within the region (the whole of the Atlantic Division) to check out: Springfield, Worcester, Lowell, Manchester, Portland, Providence, Hartford, and Bridgeport. But in a few cases, you better be quick, because New England AHL hockey could be losing some teams in the near future.
The first potential casualty came to light as the Edmonton Oilers announced they would be restarting their dormant franchise in Oklahoma City, and thereby pulling their affiliation with the Springfield Falcons. This isn't a full game killer, yet, since the Falcons could pick up another affiliate (the Anaheim Ducks are currently open), or even potentially push onwards without affiliation. While that situation is not unheard of, it would be difficult to remain competitive without an NHL opportunity to lure players. Irregardless, Edmonton's decision is a blow to a city that has hosted AHL hockey since the 1920s, both with the Indians until 1993, and with the Falcons thereafter.
More definitive is that a New England team will be headed to Albany to replace the River Rats, who are heading down to Charlotte next season. Local reports said initially that the affiliate of a "Northeast team" is the likely candidate, moreover that said NHL team has it's games aired in the Albany market. The most recent reports have been that the team is specifically Buffalo's affiliate Portland Pirates, whose lease at the Cumberland County Civic Center runs out this year, although team management is now denying that claim. The other potential candidates would be the Hartford Wolf Pack (Rangers), Bridgeport Sound Tigers (Islanders) and Lowell Devils (guess?). All three of these teams are either struggling with attendance or lease issues and are on somewhat shakey ground. The potential exists that a domino effect could occur where one team's relocation opens up a spot for another team to relocate to, and so on. Lowell may be very vulnerable in this situation, as they struggle with attendance thanks to, well, being in Lowell, and a restrictive lease at the Tsongas Arena which gives the UMass Lowell River Hawks first dibs on scheduling.
Most ironic about this situation is that the NHL team whose decision looks to ultimately lead to the loss of a New England AHL team is the same NHL team that itself relocated away from New England 13 years ago: the Carolina Hurricanes.
Despite the grim news, there's still an abundance of strong AHL franchises nearby - notably the P-Bruins, Worcester Sharks, and Manchester Monarchs - and I strongly encourage you to attend the games of whatever franchise is most local to you. It's a great night out, a way to show some local pride, and most importantly, a cheap way to watch good hockey live.