Bringing the ice to the deserts of Palm Springs

By Marc-Anthony Rosas 

Photo provided by American Hockey League

2020 may not have been the year everyone was hoping for so far, but there are a quite a few things everyone can look forward to next year, including a new hockey team in the Coachella Valley.

On Sept. 30, 2019, the American Hockey League (AHL) announced that Palm Springs was awarded the 32nd franchise within the league. The Palm Springs hockey team will begin playing in the 2021-22 season.  

“Palm Springs has all the makings of an outstanding hockey market and will further strengthen the growing base of our sport in California,” said David Andrews, AHL President and Chief Executive Officer.  

Former AHL players Sam Steel (#34) and Max Jones (#49) playing for the Anaheim Ducks. Photo by Marc-Anthony Rosas

For those who may not know, the AHL is the developmental league for the National Hockey League (NHL). One can think of the league as the Triple-A affiliates for the MLB, the G-League for the NBA, and more so the practice squad for NFL teams. The Palm Springs hockey team will be the developmental team for the NHL’s newest expansion franchise in Seattle.  

Palm Springs will not be alone in California, or in the desert, as they join the AHL in the Pacific Division. The NHL Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings have affiliates in Southern California with the San Diego Gulls and Ontario Reign, respectively. Going further north up the state, the Edmonton Oilers have the Bakersfield Condors, the Calgary Flames have the Stockton Flames, and the San Jose Sharks have the San Jose Barracuda.

There is another desert team within the division in the form of the Tucson Roadrunners, who are under the Arizona Coyotes franchise. The division is rounded off by the Colorado Eagles, who are affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche.  

Can hockey work in a desert town like Palm Springs? Between the NHL and AHL, there are currently three teams that reside in a desert community; the Arizona Coyotes, Vegas Golden Knights, and Tucson Roadrunners. Vegas Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz intends to move their AHL affiliate in Chicago to Las Vegas as well, which would bring the total up to five hockey teams in the desert, including Palm Springs.  

According to the 2019-20 NHL attendance report provided by ESPN, Vegas ranked 13th in the league in attendance at an average of 18,310 spectators per game, while Arizona ranked 28th at an average of 14,605 in attendance. With such a discrepancy between the two NHL franchises’ attendance, the team’s record would have to do more with attendance than their geographical location. Cool arenas could also provide solace for attendees who may not like the desert heat. 

Altogether, the Palm Springs hockey team will expand the game of ice hockey into the Coachella Valley and the eastern parts of the Inland Empire. For Mt. San Jacinto College students, the team could be an introduction to the sport, which is not as popular as baseball, football, soccer, or basketball in local schools.  

Palm Springs would be the closest hockey team to the community, with only a 40-minute drive from the San Jacinto campus and an hour drive from the Menifee campus. As a new franchise, fans can be a part of the building of the team’s identity and history, which is harder to do with established teams. 

The AHL Palm Springs hockey team’s name has not been announced as of May 1, but be sure to check in on The Talon for an updated story.