The Utica Comets have announced that they will begin play in the 2021 American Hockey League season beginning in February, and there's been an additional affiliation added because of the pandemic.

American Hockey League President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Howson announced on Monday that the 2020-21 season will include 28 teams when it gets underway on February 5th, and the Utica Comets officially have chosen to opt into the season.

“We are extremely fortunate to be in a situation where we are able to opt into the 2020-21 AHL season,” said Comets President Robert Esche. “This is the first big step towards bringing our community back to the Adirondack Bank Center in a safe and healthy manner.”

The AHL will operate in five divisions this season. The Comets will be in the Northern Division with rivals Syracuse, Binghamton and Rochester. Further details, including schedule formats and playoffs, are still to be determined.

Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that some 6,700 fans will be allowed to attend the upcoming Buffalo Bills playoff games including the first round on Saturday at 1 p.m.. It's unclear at this time if a limited number of fans will be allowed to attend Comets games at the Adirondack Bank Center.

The Comets, Canucks and St. Louis Blues?

The Charlotte Checkers, Milwaukee Admirals and Springfield Thunderbirds have elected to opt out of play for the 2020-21 season. All three teams will return to play in 2021-22. As a result of the Springfield opt-out, Vancouver has entered into an agreement with the St. Louis Blues, allowing for the Canucks and Blues to share the Utica Comets as an American Hockey League affiliate during the 2020-21 season.

The partnership was created after the Blues’ AHL affiliate Springfield Thunderbirds opted out of the 2021 season due to the pandemic. The Canucks and Blues will each be responsible for filling roster spots on the Utica Comets. Team and business operations for the Utica Comets will continue as in past years, including Robert Esche serving as President, Ryan Johnson as General Manager and Trent Cull as Head Coach.

"We are very pleased to partner with the Blues to find solutions that help both teams during this unique season," said Jim Benning Vancouver Canucks General Manager. "We have strong leadership and support in Utica and I believe our players and our teams will benefit from this partnership.”

"Due to the unique circumstances, we are pleased to partner with Vancouver and Utica for the upcoming 2020-21 season," said Blues President of Hockey Operations/General Manager Doug Armstrong. "We trust that our players will be in good hands with the direction and leadership of the Canucks, Comets and especially Robert, Ryan and Trent.”

“Vancouver and Utica have worked together seamlessly over the past eight seasons, and this experience has been no different,” expressed Comets President Robert Esche. “We look forward to the opportunity to work with the St. Louis Blues in the same fashion as our Vancouver Canucks.” WIBX will be speaking with Rob Esche on Tuesday during the Keeler Show.

Four teams have been granted provisional relocations for the 2020-21 season: the Binghamton Devils will play in Newark, N.J.; the Ontario Reign will play in El Segundo, Calif.; the Providence Bruins will play in Marlborough, Mass.; and the San Diego Gulls will play in Irvine, Calif.

The divisions:

Atlantic Division

Bridgeport Sound Tigers

Hartford Wolf Pack

Providence Bruins

 

Canadian Division

Belleville Senators

Laval Rocket

Manitoba Moose

Toronto Marlies

(all pending provincial government approval)

 

North Division

Binghamton Devils

Hershey Bears

Lehigh Valley Phantoms

Rochester Americans

Syracuse Crunch

Utica Comets

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

 

Central Division

Chicago Wolves

Cleveland Monsters

Grand Rapids Griffins

Iowa Wild

Rockford IceHogs

Texas Stars

 

Pacific Division

Bakersfield Condors

Colorado Eagles

Henderson Silver Knights

Ontario Reign

San Diego Gulls

San Jose Barracuda

Stockton Heat

Tucson Roadrunners

In operation since 1936, the AHL serves as the top development league for all 31 National Hockey League teams. Nearly 90 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame spent time in the AHL in their careers.

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