The mayor of Utica, N.Y., is bullish on having the Vancouver Canucks operate their American Hockey League franchise in his city and is fairly confident the team will be well supported if the franchise does indeed land there.

“Utica definitely has hockey in its blood,” mayor Robert Palmieri said Tuesday in a phone interview. “Utica is a hockey town and it's been that way for years and years and years. I think, quite frankly, bringing in another AHL team makes a tremendous amount of sense. I think Vancouver and Utica would be just a perfect marriage for great hockey in this area.

“I'm very optimistic. We are a city on the rise and I think there is a lot of interest in hockey. Behind the scenes, we've been working diligently for multiple months and I'm very encouraged. I think it would be outstanding for civic pride for Utica to have another AHL team.”

Utica, in upstate New York, has been without an American League franchise since the New Jersey Devils left in 1993 after a six-year run. Since then, Utica has been home to lower-level teams called the Bulldogs, Blizzards and Mohawk Valley Prowlers, the latter operating until 2001 in the United League.

Currently, the main hockey tenants in the 4,000-seat Utica Memorial Auditorium are the Utica College Pioneers, an NCAA Division III school. According to assistant athletic director Gil Burgmaster, the Pioneers averaged roughly 3,800 per game and sold out more than half of their 17 home dates. Ticket prices are a bargain basement $5 for adults and $2 for school children. Utica College students get in for free with their student identity cards.

“We're well followed by both the community as well as students,” noted Burgmaster. “It's a good mixture.”

By contrast, AHL prices, in Abbotsford for example, are $40 at the high end and $15 at the low end.

“If you present a good product, people will come,” stated Mayor Palmieri. “As far as putting people in the seats, I think Vancouver is going to have a great product and I don't see any problems what-so-ever in generating the revenue that's needed to facilitate an AHL team, specifically Vancouver,”.

The mayor wouldn't say, however, that the tax-payers of Utica would be willing to cover any losses the Canucks might incur if things don't go as well as planned.

“I would have to say 'no' at this point simply because where they would be playing is a regional facility,” he explained. “The Utica Memorial Arena is a regional facility so they would be negotiating with that facility, not the city of Utica.”