The first steps to the new look AHL arrived yesterday afternoon, as the league announced a divisional realignment for the 2015-16 season. Three divisions in each conference were reduced to two, with one 7 team division and one 8 team division per conference. With several teams moving west, a few Western Conference teams were moved east to make room. Here are the new look divisions:
Atlantic Division: Bridgeport, Portland, Springfield, Providence, Hartford, Lehigh Valley, Hershey, Wilkes-Barre
North Division: Albany, Syracuse, Binghamton, Rochester, Utica, St. John’s, Toronto
Central Division: Charlotte, Lake Erie, Rockford, Grand Rapids, Iowa, Chicago, Manitoba, Milwaukee
Pacific Division: San Antonio, Texas, Stockton, San Jose, Bakersfield, San Diego, Ontario
My take: I got my wish of an all New York division, like in the late 1990s! For the first time in a few years, Albany will finally get to face old Thruway rival Rochester, and more matchups with Utica look likely (and since the teams are about 80 miles apart…I expect to be going there a lot next season). It’s also an added bonus of having Toronto move over along with St. John’s, who had to fit in somewhere. Having the New England and Pennsylvania teams grouped together is, well, interesting. It also breaks up a little of the East Division/I-81 rivalry with Binghamton, Wilkes-Barre and to an extent Syracuse. Most were expecting the Checkers to move back to the East with closest rival Norfolk gone (more on that in a bit), but it looks like more of the usual air travel for the former River Rats once again next season. The two Texas teams join with the new Western teams, who have been rumored to receive an unbalanced schedule due to travel and other factors, but we will have to wait until mid to late summer to find out if that comes to fruition.
So how did this come to be? Here’s a quick review of all the moves/silly season happenings:
-Manchester will move to Ontario to become the Reign. The Monarchs will switch to the ECHL and remain a Kings affiliate.
-Norfolk moves to San Diego and become the Gulls. The Admirals will also switch to the ECHL, but as a Oilers affiliate instead of Anaheim.
-Adirondack moves to Stockton to become the Heat, while Glens Falls receives the Thunder as a Calgary ECHL affiliate. (Side note: I will not be surprised if Albany sends players there instead of Orlando next season.)
-Worcester moves to San Jose and will play as the Barracuda. As of now no team has replaced the Sharks.
-Oklahoma City moves to Bakersfield to become the Condors. No replacement for the Barons.
-St. John’s switches affiliations from Winnipeg to Montreal. Hamilton leaves to join the OHL as the Bulldogs, while the old IceCaps return to Manitoba and bring back the Moose.
-A four way affiliation switch between San Antonio, Portland, Springfield, and Lake Erie: Florida switches from the Rampage to the Pirates; Columbus switches from the Falcons to the Monsters; Phoenix switches from the Pirates to the Falcons; and Colorado switches from the Monsters to the Rampage.
Got all that? Good. There will be a pop quiz later.
Anyway, back to the current postseason:
Manchester was the first team to punch its ticket to a conference final, finishing off the Penguins in 5 games last night. Hershey and Hartford are tied at 2, with Game 5 coming this evening in Chocolatetown. In the West, Grand Rapids leads Rockford 2-0 (Game 3 tonight), and Utica leads Oklahoma City 2-1 (with Game 3 also tonight). Bears and Wolfpack fans will also be keeping an eye on Game 7 in New York this evening, as whoever loses between Washington and the Rangers will most likely get help back before Game 6 Friday night in Hartford.