SPRINGFIELD, United States — The Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets will move their American Hockey League affiliates and the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls will play out of Hamilton next season.
The AHL Hamilton Bulldogs will go to St. John’s and be named the IceCaps, while the Jets will move their AHL club from St. John’s to Winnipeg. The Bulls, meanwhile, will move to Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre and be renamed the Bulldogs.
Also Thursday, owner Michael Andlauer sold the AHL Bulldogs to their parent club, the Canadiens, and purchased the Bulls. IceCaps CEO Danny Williams will lease the AHL club from the Canadiens for two years and bring them to the Mile One Centre in St. John’s.
"We could not be more thrilled to partner with the Montreal Canadiens and to welcome this legendary hockey organization to St. John’s," Williams said in a statement. "We have proven within the league that St. John’s is a thriving hockey city, with an outstanding fan base and a great depth of corporate support."
Canadiens owner and president Geoff Molson said: "We are delighted in making St. John’s our new home and look forward to playing in front of fans who have long been Canadiens supporters and who will now have an opportunity to watch our finest prospects as they hone their skills with our AHL affiliate team."
Several NHL teams have been moving their AHL clubs into closer travelling range in recent years, including the Maple Leafs whose farm team the Marlies plays out of Toronto. There is to be a migration of AHL clubs to California as well.
The Canadiens are expected to eventually move their AHL affiliate to a proposed new rink in Laval, Que.
Andlauer, a minority shareholder in the Canadiens, took control of the Bulldogs in 2004. The team has been in Hamilton for 19 years, winning a Calder Cup in 2007, but the club has struggled to sell tickets.
Now the city will have its first OHL club since the Dukes of Hamilton left in 1991.
"I want to thank my partner Geoff Molson, Marc Bergevin and the rest of the Montreal Canadiens organization not only for the great crop of prospects that we have groomed here in Hamilton over the last 11 years, but also for facilitating the relocation of their AHL team to St. John’s to make this possible," said Andlauer. "Memories like the Calder Cup championship in 2007 and the Outdoor Classic game in 2012 are permanently entrenched in our minds and won’t soon be forgotten."
The AHL announced its board of governors approved the moves and that new division alignments and schedule formats for the 2015-16 campaign will be determined later.
The Bulldogs were established in 1996 when the Edmonton Oilers transferred their affiliate from Cape Breton. The Quebec Citadelles merged with the Bulldogs in 2002 as a dual Montreal-Edmonton farm team. The Canadiens took full control in 2003.
"This transition today allows us to move forward with a more permanent solution for our fans and an answer to the long-term health of hockey in Hamilton," Andlauer added. "We’re very excited about joining the OHL for the 2015-16 season."
New uniforms will be unveiled in the coming months.