VANCOUVER -- It’s the talk of the Fraser Valley: Professional hockey is returning to Abbotsford.

“The hockey community is huge in Abbotsford, it’s a big deal around here,” said Tim Phillips, a local resident who also helps coach his son’s team in the Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association. "To have another team coming that's affiliated with the Canucks is just going to be awesome."

Of course, all the excitement is about the Vancouver Canucks announcement this week that their American Hockey League affiliate, currently based in Utica, New York, is relocating to Abbotsford for the start of the 2021-22 season.

In a statement released this week, Francesco Aquilini, chairman of Canucks Sports and Entertainment said, “With momentum starting to build, we are pleased to confirm our goal to bring our AHL franchise and Canucks prospects home to the City of Abbotsford. The move would bring significant opportunities for both our team and the community and it would begin a new chapter, bringing Canucks hockey to even more fans throughout the Lower Mainland.”

It appears to be a much better fit than the previous franchise that was located in the city. The Abbotsford Heat, an affiliate of the Calgary Flames, left town in 2014 amid a cloud of controversy. The hockey team in the Fraser Valley was bleeding taxpayers out of millions of dollars. But this time around, Phillips believes, being able to see Canucks prospects will make all the difference.

"I think the crowds will be packed, especially coming out of COVID, people will have something to look forward to,” said Phillips. “It's going to be a cool atmosphere and a cool place to bring our families to, so I’m really excited about it.”

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun released this statement on behalf of the City of Abbotsford: “An anchor tenant at the Abbotsford Centre will offer strong ongoing community connections, economic benefits and further showcases the City of Abbotsford as a leader for events, entertainment and sport. The city is excited to be in discussions with the Vancouver Canucks’ American Hockey League affiliate and we will provide an update with more details once an agreement is in place.”

Details of the partnership are still being finalized.