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Professional Hockey Will Return To San Diego

Norfolk Admirals' Tyler Johnson, left, and Alexandre Picard celebrate a goal during the second period of an AHL Calder Cup hockey game against the Toronto Marlies in Toronto on June 9, 2012.
Associated Press
Norfolk Admirals' Tyler Johnson, left, and Alexandre Picard celebrate a goal during the second period of an AHL Calder Cup hockey game against the Toronto Marlies in Toronto on June 9, 2012.

Professional hockey will return to San Diego this fall following a nine-season absence after the American Hockey League announced the formation of a five-team Pacific Division.

Teams will take up residence in San Diego, Bakersfield, Ontario, San Jose and Stockton, and will be affiliated with the National Hockey League's Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames, respectively.

The NHL's western franchises have been working with the AHL for three years to establish teams on their side of the country to reduce travel time when players are called up or sent down.

The Ducks relocated their AHL team from Norfolk to San Diego. The team will play at the Valley View Casino Center, formerly known as the Sports Arena in San Diego's Midway neighborhood.

"With five new AHL teams in the state, today is a landmark day for hockey in California," Ducks owners Henry and Susan Samueli said. "We've long been excited by the idea of San Diego, which has a successful track record for supporting hockey, as our AHL home. We are extremely pleased and proud to bring the hockey back to the market."

The San Diego hockey team will be the "top development club" for the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, meaning it will be the most advanced minor league team in the Ducks organization. The team is being moved to San Diego from Virginia, where the Ducks' minor league franchise was known as the Norfolk Admirals.

Bob Murray, general manager of the Ducks, said that means San Diego fans will be watching AHL players who are at or very near the level of the NHL.

"You know there have been people asking me, 'Who's going to play on your team down there?' Well, on our Anaheim Ducks roster right now there are only two players who didn't play in the American Hockey League," Murray said.

Murray said moving Anaheim's top minor league club from Virginia to San Diego will make it much easier to for him to keep track of the organization's top players.

"I can get up out of bed and instead of going to see our team practice, I can drive down the coast — which is kind of nice — and go to San Diego and watch my minor league team practice," Murray said. "And that is just so valuable."

San Diego has not had a professional hockey team since the San Diego Gulls folded in 2006 when negotiations to sell the team in time for the 2006-07 season failed.

The city's pro hockey history dates back to 1944. The Gulls won five titles between 1996 and 2003.

Anaheim's AHL franchise has been located in Norfolk since the 2012-13 season. The Admirals play in the Eastern Conference of the AHL.

The league said full division alignments and schedule formats for the 2015-16 season will be determined by its Board of Governors at a later date.

A "Fanfest" has been scheduled for Feb. 22 in the Valley View Casino Center arena. The event will include a chance for prospective season-ticket holders to select seats, and for the team to unveil its nickname and logo.

A spokesman for the Anaheim Ducks would not say whether the new San Diego team would also be called "The Gulls." But U-T San Diego reports the Ducks organization has purchased the Internet domain for SanDiegoGulls.com.