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Calgary Flames’ AHL team to play games in Canada for upcoming season

Players' sticks are shown during the Ice Hockey World Championships Group A match between Russia and Denmark, in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, May 12, 2016. A junior men's hockey team has dropped its Indigenous mascot and name. The Neepawa Natives announced the change Wednesday, saying they would also be dropping their logo of a stereotyped Indigenous man with feathers in his hair. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ivan Sekretarev. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ivan Sekretarev

The Calgary Flames’ AHL affiliate, the Stockton Heat, is relocating to Canada for the pandemic-shortened season.

The Heat is expected to play in the Canadian division against the Manitoba Moose (Winnipeg Jets), Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs), Belleville Senators (Ottawa Senators) and Laval Rocket (Montreal Canadiens).

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The AHL declined to confirm the move, but health authorities in Canada and the United States have.

“The Calgary Flames have indicated that the remainder of their AHL roster will be arriving in Canada (the majority to Calgary) between late January and early February,” Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said in a statement.

“Any international arrivals will be following federal and provincial quarantine requirements, and Canadian arrivals will follow the provincial and NHL protocols in place (NHL protocols include a seven-day quarantine and obtaining four negative COVID tests prior to entering the facility permitted for NHL use).”

The Calgary Flames confirmed the move in a Thursday afternoon media release, saying the provisional relocation was due to cross-border travel restrictions.

“We are appreciative of the City of Stockton and the San Joaquin County Public Health Office for the work they put forward in attempt to accommodate the team for this season,” Calgary Flames assistant GM Brad Pascall said in a media release.

“However, the complications of cross-border travel in the face of COVID-19 has brought us to our decision today.”

The Flames said the Heat will follow all NHL COVID-19 protocols while making Calgary and the Saddledome home. The team will work closely with Alberta Health to ensure a safe work environment, the Flames said.

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The Heat are the fifth club to relocate for the unusual season, while three other teams have opted out of competition with plans to return for the 2021-2022 season.

Read more: Moose assistant coach Eric Dubois reunites with son Pierre-Luc in Winnipeg

While the prospect of not having any gate revenue is daunting for any sports team, the Heat faced additional roadblocks in Stockton that simply didn’t guarantee they’d even be allowed to take the ice.

Earlier this week, San Joaquin County lifted a regional stay-at-home order, though Stockton remains under heavy COVID-19 restrictions because of widespread cases.

Live sports are allowed with no fans in attendance and further safety protocols, provided the county’s Public Health Officer signs off on team safety proposals.

A spokesperson for the City of Stockton told Global News the Heat informed staff of its decision to play in Canada late last week.

While players set up shop in Calgary for the foreseeable future, there’s still no guarantee they’ll get to play.

Read more: American Hockey League targets February start date for new season

The AHL hasn’t released a tentative schedule for the Canadian Division as provincial and federal authorities have yet to sign off on a return-to-play plan.

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The league is scheduled to kick off south of the border on Feb. 5.

Long-term, the Flames have indicated they’d like to see the team return to Stockton.

The club is expected to provide an update Thursday afternoon.

With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News.

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