A year after its OHL team left town, the Eastern Ontario city of Belleville may have its sights set on a replacement.
There are whispers and reports in the area that Belleville could become the new home of the Ottawa Senators' AHL affiliate. The partnership would make sense, logistically at least. Belleville is about 155 miles from Ottawa and the growing trend in hockey is to have the NHL team's top affiliate nearby to make for quick, easy travel back and forth.
What's unclear still is what it means for the Sens' current AHL team in Binghamton, N.Y. Reports suggest there is an agreement in place to keep the Senators there until 2021. But the mayor of Belleville has been teasing that an announcement of a new team for the city is imminent.
One of the biggest boosters of the idea of an AHL team in Belleville is Senators new associate coach Marc Crawford, a Belleville native. Crawford told the Ottawa Sun that Belleville is "very much a hockey town." More from the Sun:
"Neither Crawford nor anybody else will specifically comment on the Senators’ plan to relocate their top farm club from Binghamton to Belleville until all the red tape is cleared, mostly because there’s still a chance it could get shot down. Never is there a sure thing when politicians are involved, and if this isn’t one the Senators do not want to alienate their loyal fans in upstate New York."
One of the holdups for Belleville, along with city council debating it this week, is that Yardmen Arena reportedly needs millions of dollars worth of upgrades and improvements. That was one of the factors in the OHL's Belleville Bulls leaving town after 34 years. The Bulls were sold in 2015 and moved to Hamilton. Crawford said he was part of a group that tried to buy the Bulls to keep them in Belleville.
One piece of affiliate-related news the Senators did make official on Monday is that the Wichita Thunder will be their new ECHL affiliate. The Thunder were without an NHL affiliate last season and will take over that post from the Evansville IceMen.