Boise rejected in favor of California city for Seattle’s new minor-league hockey team

With a proven hockey fan base, Boise was one of two finalists to receive Seattle’s new AHL team. But in the end, it couldn’t compete with a brand-new arena.

The incoming Seattle NHL franchise awarded its top minor-league affiliate to Palm Springs, California, The Seattle Times reported Tuesday.

The newspaper said Seattle has filed an application for an expansion franchise with the American Hockey League instead of purchasing and moving an existing team. The AHL is a feeder league for the NHL and is North America’s top level of minor league hockey, one step above the ECHL, where the Idaho Steelheads play.

The Palm Springs franchise will start play by the fall of 2021 in a 10,000-seat, privately financed arena in the heart of its downtown. Seattle’s NHL franchise is also slated to start that fall.

NBC Palm Springs reported that Tim Leiweke is one of the principal investors in the new Palm Springs arena. He is the brother of Tod Leiweke — the CEO of Seattle’s NHL franchise — and the CEO of the Oak View Group, the firm leading the $900 million renovation of Seattle’s Key Arena.

“Palm Springs, the idea of a new arena, a thriving community with snowbirds, connected to the other teams in Southern California, there were a whole bunch of things that ultimately gave the partnership confidence that this was the right thing,’’ Tod Leiweke told The Seattle Times. “We’re not there yet. All we’ve done is file an application.’’

Downtown Boise’s CenturyLink Arena can seat 5,000 fans for hockey. The Idaho Steelheads regularly fill the arena, averaging 4,539 fans last season. But 22 of the AHL’s 31 teams averaged more attendance than Idaho last season.

Seattle’s decision does not threaten hockey’s home in Boise. The Steelheads, founded in 1997, will begin their 16th season in the ECHL on Oct. 11.

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