Pro hockey team to call San Diego home

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SAN DIEGO — Professional hockey will return to San Diego this fall following a nine-season absence after the American Hockey League announced the formation of a five-team Pacific Division.

Teams will take up residence in San Diego, Bakersfield, Ontario, San Jose and Stockton, and will be affiliated with the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames, respectively.

The NHL’s western franchises have been working with the AHL for three years to establish teams on their side of the country to reduce travel time when players are called up or sent down.

The Ducks purchased the AHL affiliate in Norfolk in order to  move it to San Diego, where it will play at the Valley View Casino Center.

“With five new AHL teams in the state, today is a landmark day for hockey in California,” Ducks owners Henry and Susan Samueli said. “We’ve long been excited by the idea of San Diego, which has a successful track record for supporting hockey, as our AHL home. We are extremely pleased and proud to bring the hockey back to the market.”

San Diego has not had a professional hockey team since the San Diego Gulls folded in 2006 when negotiations to sell the team in time for the 2006-07 season failed.

“It’s been a long time coming. It’s been eight years since a team’s been here — we’ve put in over $6 million in improvements to the building and more improvements coming for hockey,” said Ernie Hahn, general manager for Valley View Casino Center.

The city’s pro hockey history dates back to 1944. The Gulls won five titles between 1996 and 2003.

Anaheim’s AHL franchise has been located in Norfolk since the 2012-13 season. The Admirals play in the Eastern Conference of the AHL.

The league said full division alignments and schedule formats for the 2015-16 season will be determined by its Board of Governors at a later date.

A “hockeyfest” has been scheduled for Feb. 22 at the arena. The event will include a chance for prospective season-ticket holders to select seats and for the team to unveil its nickname and logo.

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