An American Hockey League team could start playing in the Coachella Valley next year, and the organization’s front office managers see that team as the bloodline and foundation for the new Seattle NHL franchise.
The Seattle Kraken will start playing as an NHL expansion team in October. They play at Climate Pledge Arena, formerly Key Arena, in downtown Seattle. The original building was five decades old and home to the NBA’s Supersonics.
Oak View Group, the Los Angeles-based sports and entertainment company that plans to build a $ 250 million arena on 43.35 acres of unincorporated land adjacent to the Classic Club golf course north of Interstate 10 in Palm Desert, has spent more than $ 900 million to completely rebuild the Seattle arena where the Kraken will play.
The Coachella Valley Arena project will be submitted to the Board of Supervisors for approval in April, Riverside County supervisor V. Manuel Perez said in February. OVG expects groundbreaking and construction to take 17 months in May.
Provided the project is approved by the county, Krakens’s AHL affiliate will play in the Coachella Valley arena, which will host 9,918 home games as of October 2022.
As in Major League Baseball, where every big league organization has minor league affiliates that develop players for the pros, hockey prospects will be drafted within the Kraken organization or signed or traded for by the NHL club and likely to start their careers in the Coachella Valley.
It’s an opportunity for those in the desert to see the stars of tomorrow before they reach the NHL. It will also be the training and development space for the entire franchise.
How successful the organization is in the Coachella Valley, Kraken assistant general manager Ricky Olczyk said will likely determine how successful the parent club is in Seattle, where the Kraken will chase the Stanley Cup annually.
Palm Springs is going to play a major role in that success for us in Seattle, Olczyk said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Desert Sun has partnered with Oak View Group for an informational webinar series called ‘Valley Arena Project’. The arena series will focus on various aspects of the new sports and entertainment facility that, pending approval by Riverside County, will begin construction this spring, including design, construction and the various sports and music tenants.
Watch the fourth installation Monday on desertsun.com with The Desert Suns Andrew John interviewing front office managers of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken to hear what they have to say about hockey coming to the Coachella Valley.
Team name, mascot, colors and branding are likely to come this summer
Olczyk said there is already a buzz around both the AHL and the NHL about a team coming to the Coachella Valley. He said he had heard from player agents, team leaders and others about visiting the Palm Springs area and how big that could be for both leagues.
Many teams are excited about it, Olczyk said. Lots of different agents, talk about players they may have available at some point, and free agents from college.
There is a buzz.
Nick Forro, a senior vice president of the Kraken and team chairman of the AHL team that would play in the Coachella Valley, said more than 2,000 deposits have been made for season tickets.
Tim Leiweke, CEO of OVG, said the response was so encouraging that he expects at least 5,000 season ticket holders by the time the team starts playing. Most season ticket holders in the AHL would be.
I think this team is going to be an overwhelming success, said Leiweke of the proposed Coachella Valley AHL team.
Forro said the question he’s most asked about the AHL team is what the name will be. He said people want to know the name, the colors, the mascot, and everything about the branding.
That information, Forro assures, will come soon. He said it will likely come to pieces, likely a series of announcements right after OVG takes ground on the new arena in the valley.
It’s not just the name, but it’s the brand, Forro said. A lot goes into it. We want to make sure that all nine cities (in the valley) can be super proud of it.
Leiweke said last month that OVG plans to have a team store, possibly in downtown Palm Springs or on El Paseo in Palm Desert, sometime after a team name and branding were announced.
This year is big for us, Forro said. Groundbreaking in the arena becomes super exciting, the team brand, the team name. Hopefully this year well put a name to the arena, with a naming rights partner.
There would be a lot to celebrate and we would do it together.
When can the AHL team start playing in the Coachella Valley
The Coachella Valley AHL affiliate is expected to begin playing for the 2022-23 season in October 2022, provided the arena is completed on time. OVG made sure that all plans for the arena were drawn up in advance to allow for accelerated construction.
The NHL will hold its amateur draft for 2021 from July 23-24. Some of those players will play in the NHL during the 2021-22 season. Many more of those players who have been called up will return to smaller leagues in Canada, Europe or the United States, for the following year before reaching the Coachella Valley in October 2022 to begin their journey into what they hope will be a long career. in the NHL.
An NHL team can hold an unsigned player draft rights for two years.
Many of the players who are signed and eventually make their way to Palm Springs will begin their journey to the NHL.
Other players who have already played in the NHL are also likely to see action in the proposed Coachella Valley arena. Players will sometimes be out of the Kraken lineup due to injury or depending on the Kraken’s roster needs during a particular stretch.
Building a fan base in the Coachella Valley
Forro said he doesn’t believe there is a better market for an AHL team than the Coachella Valley. He pointed out the need for year-round professional sports in a region so accustomed to high-level entertainment and the passionate hockey fans already living in the area.
Some of them naturally live seasonally in the valley. Many are from the Pacific Northwest, Canada, or the Midwest, where hockey is very popular.
Scott White, the chief executive officer of the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, said his company is already doing significant marketing in those areas, and having a professional hockey team in the valley is another selling point for the area.
These regions love hockey, and the arena will give us a new visitor experience to promote, White said.
Forro said the Kraken organization wants to attract everyone and everyone and that includes aspiring hockey fans and those who have never seen a live game.
We couldn’t be more excited, really, Forro said. It’s going to be high quality hockey, high quality entertainment and with Ricky and his group there, we want to be competitive and win some games.
Forro was referring to how having the AHL team in the valley is part of a master plan to build the Kraken’s profile within the NHL.
Forro added that the Kraken want to attract the best talent and develop from head to toe into a top-notch organization. Having a team and rising stars in a world-class resort destination like the Coachella Valley, in a brand new facility, is one way Kraken executives expect to achieve that.
We look for this community to embrace this team and really help us make great strides in the years to come, Forro said.
Andrew John covers sports for The Desert Sun and the USA TODAY Network. Find him on Twitter: @Andrew_L_John. Email him at [email protected]
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