The Calgary Flames are now two years into their fifth decade of hockey based out of Calgary, Alberta. Since moving from Atlanta at the start of the 1980–81 season, the franchise has found a home city with no intentions to leave any time soon. With home base being well established, we turn to the numerous affiliates that have been associated with the Flames over the years.
Flames affiliates have spanned North America
The Flames have had primary affiliates in three Canadian provinces and nine American states since moving from Atlanta. Some have lasted just a season or two, while others had tenures lasting upwards of a decade. Prior to the rise of the AHL, most of the teams were from the original Central Hockey League (CHL, not to be confused with the Canadian Hockey League), which operated until 1984. The Flames also had one primary affiliate in the International Hockey League. See the locations on the map below to see where all the Flames’ affiliates have been.
Let’s break down the history of all of these teams during their affiliations with the Calgary Flames.
Birmingham Bulls (CHL) 1980–81
The Flames initially continued with the Atlanta’s primary affiliate in Birmingham, with a team that existed for just five seasons. It started out in the World Hockey Association, but was not part of the league’s merger in 1979 with the NHL due to worries about the sport’s viability in the southeast. The NHL was right, and the team folded after the 1980–81 season after an incomplete 17-37-4 season.
Oklahoma City Stars (CHL) 1981–82
The Flames weren’t done with the south quite yet, opting to move to Oklahoma City for a season. They took over the Minnesota North Stars’ affiliate in OKC for the one season, which ended up again being the team’s final year in existence. While they did end up making the playoffs following a 25-54-1 season, the team folded after the 1981–82 season. Not great affiliate luck for the Flames so far.
Colorado Flames (CHL) 1982–84
The first of two affiliate teams in Denver, the Flames had some success with their third CHL affiliate in as many seasons. Coached by Pierre Page—who was an assistant coach on the Calgary Flames from 1980–82 and their head coach from 1995–97—the affiliate team in Denver made the playoffs both years. However, they lost in the first round of the playoffs both years. When the CHL folded in 1984, the team went with it, and the Calgary Flames moved their affiliate to the AHL.
Moncton Golden Flames (AHL) 1984–87
Moving to Moncton was the first time the Flames had their affiliate team in Canada. Moncton had played host to a number of NHL team’s AHL affiliates, but each one opted to move the team somewhere else in spite of the fact that Moncton had among the highest attendance numbers in the league. The team was the Flames’ affiliate in 1984, then was shared with the Bruins in the 1985–86 and 1986–87 seasons before it folded. Just like in Colorado, the team was initially coached by Page before Terry Crisp took over in 1985–86. Crisp would go on to coach the Flames to their first and only Stanley Cup Championships in 1988–89.
Salt Lake Golden Eagles (IHL) 1987–93
The Flames liked the “Golden” moniker but were not so keen on Moncton, and merged their primary and secondary affiliates in Salt Lake, Utah. Playing out of the Salt Palace, the Golden Eagles had a lot of success as the Flames’ affiliate, winning the IHL Championships in 1987–88 and losing in the final the following year. Coached by former Flame Paul Baxter, he would go on to be one of just a handful of primary affiliate coaches to not coach the NHL club. The first place the team stayed for more than just a couple years, the Golden Eagles were one of the bright spots for the Flames’ affiliates.
Saint John Flames (AHL) 1993–2003
While the Flames will have at least two prospects playing in Saint John this season in the QMJHL, they have a long-standing tie to the New Brunswick city. This was in fact the last hockey team owned by Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation to win a championship when they won the Calder Cup in 2001. Historically, they had the same logo as the Flames prior to 2000, but then the logo changed to a fire breathing dragon, which was by far the coolest logo the Flames’ affilites have had.
Lowell Lock Monsters (AHL) 2003–05
For two seasons, the Flames went back south of the border to Lowell, and shared an affiliate with the Carolina Hurricanes in Massachusetts. This was the team that former Captain Mark Giordano once played for, and was the team that new Stockton Heat Head Coach Mitch Love also played for, albeit after the Flames ended their affiliation with the team.
Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights (AHL) 2005–07
Probably the coolest name of all the Flames’ affiliates, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights were a short-lived affiliate of the team, located in Nebraska. The Ak-Sar-Ben part of the name came from a local civic organization, whose logo was part of the team’s logo, and the name Ak-Sar-Ben is the word Nebraska spelled backwards.
As cool as the history was, the team had trouble getting fans in the stands, and relocated just two seasons later.
Quad City Flames (AHL) 2007–09
Playing out of the iWireless Centre in Moline Illinois, the Quad City Flames were the affiliate for a couple of seasons, and were the third AHL affiliate to try their luck in the city. They took over the lease of the arena from the Quad City Mallards of the UHL, who ceased operations for two seasons. After an estimated 1.3 million dollars in losses, the Flames pulled their affiliate north of the border again.
Abbotsford Heat (AHL) 2009–14
What was at the time the westernmost AHL team, the Flames moved their affiliate to the closest it had ever been in Abbotsford. The team held a name-the-team contest, and found the Heat name from that, which is what it is currently. However, given its distance from the rest of the league, it was impractical to keep it in Abbotsford, and with mounting losses, the team relocated back down south, which, aside from the pandemic season last year, is where it has remained.
Adirondack Flames (AHL) 2014–15
For just one season, the AHL affiliate found their way to upstate New York and the city of Glens Falls, but the relationship started off very rocky. The team named their mascot the Scorch, and in their introductory video joked about Scorch being the last unextinguished flame from an 1846 fire that devastated the town. The team subsequently extinguished Scorch as their mascot due to the controversy it caused.
The one notable record from this season was the Flames beat the Syracuse Crunch 10-0, marking the first time since 2002 that an AHL game had gone to double digits. Touted prospect Sven Baertschi recorded a hat trick in that game. Unfortunately, this was not enough to make a lasting impact in the city, and the Flames moved west to be part of the AHL’s plan to grow the game in California.
Stockton Heat (AHL) 2015–21
One of the charter members of the AHL’s Pacific Division, the Flames made their move west to Stockton, where they have remained since. The team has enjoyed a mixed record through this time, finishing in playoff positions in two of their five seasons.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Heat relocated to Calgary last season to play in an all-Canadian Division last season. Dubbed the “Stockton Heat in Celcius”, they played a tilted season, starting at home then going out on a very extended roadtrip to end the season.
What’s next for the Flames’ affiliate?
Given their nomadic history, gambling on the Flames’ affiliate remaining in Stockton is very difficult, however, there are some signs that they will remain in California. The AHL has made a big push into the California market, and having a team relocate out would put a dent in this plan. The team has also been very public about wanting to remain in Stockton, and has kept this stance up for years.
There are a few questions, however. First, the team’s arena deal expired at the end of the 2019–20 season, and was renewed for one more year. There is a strong belief that they will extend it again this year, but without another long-term lease, the question will remain about the team’s future in Stockton.
Could the Flames move their farm team back to Alberta? It seems unlikely given the distances that they would need to travel to play games. Being in California, the team can charter busses to get to games nearby and only have to worry about a flight to cities like Abbotsford or Denver. In Calgary, the team would need to charter a plane to every city they played in, which is exponentially more expensive and taxing on its players too.
They would also have to negotiate moving one of their other teams, the Calgary Hitmen or Calgary Roughnecks, out of the Scotiabank Saddledome, as there are so many games that can be played out of one barn. This would be just one more wrinkle to solve in Calgary.
At the end of the day, the Flames have spoken extensively about building relationships and a future in Stockton, and the city appears amenable to keeping the team in the city for the time being, Here is hoping that the Flames can establish a long-lasting relationship with the city.