The AHL is entering a new era. On Oct. 9, 2015, the 2015-16 season starts - and with it, the beginning of the newly formed AHL Pacific Division, featuring five teams in California, all affiliated with NHL Pacific Division teams.
The Stockton Heat's season starts on Oct. 10, at home against Rockford.
The Heat, along with the San Jose Barracuda, Bakersfield Condors, San Diego Gulls, and Ontario Reign will all play 68 games this season, while the rest of the league plays its standard 76. The San Antonio Rampage and Texas Stars - realigned to the Pacific Division, but not in California - still play their full 76-game season.
The missing eight games for the California teams are to accommodate the increased travel demands the Pacific Division will have. It will be better for them, though: three games in three nights, which used to be a reality for the Abbotsford Heat, are a thing of the past, and the players will have much more time to practice.
Recalling players will now be much easier (no more days-long journeys for players like Joni Ortio, who just barely make it in time to suit up, let alone have adequate rest). Stockton is far closer to Calgary, and players can be recalled on much shorter notice; there's also the fact that California weather is less likely to cause delays than crazy upstate New York snow storms.
Eight games vs. less travel, more practice time, less strenuous circumstances, and easier recalls? It's a no-brainer.
Stockton will play 60 divisional contests; the remaining eight games will be out of division, against Rockford (two), Iowa (two), and Manitoba (four). Only 10 of their 68 games take place outside the state of California.
A nice little bonus to this set up is that by seeing the same opponents so frequently, very genuine rivalries should build up. Considering it's the Flames affiliate most often facing the Sharks, Oilers, Ducks, and Kings affiliates - all NHL divisional opponents - that could bring a more intense rivalry up into the professional leagues. As it stands, though, California hockey fans should be in for a real treat this season.
Here's the Stockton Heat's full 2015-16 season (California games bolded):
|Thu||10/15/15||7:00 PM||San Jose|
|Wed||10/21/15||7:30 PM||@ Texas|
|Sat||10/24/15||7:00 PM||@ San Antonio|
|Fri||10/30/15||7:05 PM||@ San Diego|
|Sat||10/31/15||5:35 PM||@ San Diego|
|Fri||11/13/15||7:30 PM||@ San Antonio|
|Sat||11/14/15||7:00 PM||@ Texas|
|Wed||11/18/15||7:00 PM||San Diego|
|Sat||11/21/15||7:30 PM||San Jose|
|Wed||11/25/15||7:00 PM||@ Ontario|
|Sat||11/28/15||7:00 PM||@ Bakersfield|
|Fri||12/4/15||7:30 PM||@ San Jose|
|Sat||12/5/15||7:30 PM||San Diego|
|Thu||12/10/15||7:00 PM||@ San Antonio|
|Sat||12/12/15||7:00 PM||@ Texas|
|Sun||12/20/15||3:00 PM||@ San Jose|
|Sat||12/26/15||7:00 PM||@ Bakersfield|
|Sun||12/27/15||5:00 PM||@ San Jose|
|Thu||12/31/15||7:00 PM||@ Ontario|
|Wed||1/6/16||7:30 PM||@ San Jose|
|Fri||1/8/16||7:00 PM||@ Ontario|
|Wed||1/13/16||7:00 PM||San Antonio|
|Sat||1/16/16||7:00 PM||@ Rockford|
|Sun||1/17/16||5:00 PM||@ Iowa|
|Fri||2/5/16||7:05 PM||@ San Diego|
|Sat||2/6/16||7:00 PM||@ Bakersfield|
|Tue||2/9/16||7:00 PM||@ Bakersfield|
|Sun||2/14/16||4:00 PM||San Antonio|
|Wed||2/17/16||7:00 PM||@ Ontario|
|Sat||2/20/16||7:30 PM||San Jose|
|Sun||2/21/16||4:00 PM||San Jose|
|Wed||2/24/16||7:00 PM||San Diego|
|Sun||2/28/16||4:00 PM||San Antonio|
|Tue||3/1/16||7:30 PM||@ San Jose|
|Fri||3/4/16||7:05 PM||@ San Diego|
|Sat||3/5/16||7:05 PM||@ San Diego|
|Wed||3/9/16||7:00 PM||San Jose|
|Sat||3/19/16||7:00 PM||@ Bakersfield|
|Mon||3/21/16||7:00 PM||@ Manitoba|
|Wed||3/23/16||7:00 PM||@ Manitoba|
|Fri||3/25/16||7:00 PM||@ Ontario|
|Sat||3/26/16||6:00 PM||@ Ontario|
|Wed||3/30/16||7:00 PM||San Diego|
|Sun||4/3/16||3:05 PM||@ San Diego|
|Sat||4/9/16||7:30 PM||San Diego|
|Sun||4/10/16||4:00 PM||San Diego|
|Tue||4/12/16||7:00 PM||@ Bakersfield|
|Sat||4/16/16||7:30 PM||San Jose|
|Sun||4/17/16||3:00 PM||@ San Jose|