AHL realignment places Heat in West Division

Texas teams will be frequent guests at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre this season, after the American Hockey League unveiled a divisional realignment on Tuesday.

Texas teams will be frequent guests at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre this season, after the American Hockey League unveiled a divisional realignment on Tuesday.

The AHL is switching from four divisions in two conferences to a six-division format (three per conference). The Abbotsford Heat are new members of the West Division, joining the Texas Stars, San Antonio Rampage, Houston Aeros and Oklahoma City Barons.

The move means the Heat likely won’t be seeing fellow Canadian teams like the Hamilton Bulldogs or the Toronto Marlies as often this season – both teams are in the reconstituted North Division. The Chicago Wolves, the Vancouver Canucks’ new AHL affiliate, are members of the Midwest Division.

The regular-season schedule format is still to be determined, but Dave Sheldon, the Heat’s director of communication, said the team is hopeful they’ll be able to weight their inter-divisional schedule to include more games against the likes of the Wolves, Marlies and Bulldogs, since those teams remain in the Western Conference with Abbotsford.

Ultimately, the Heat feel the realignment makes sense for them from a geographic standpoint. With the Manitoba Moose moving to St. John’s, Nfld., the Texas teams are Abbotsford’s closest AHL neighbours.

“From our standpoint, it really is the best geographic situation for us,” Sheldon said. “When we’re on the road, we’ve always found our road trips to Texas, San Antonio and Houston to be less exhausting than having to go back east.”

A new format for the 2012 Calder Cup playoffs was also approved by the AHL’s board of governors. Eight teams in each conference will qualify for the postseason, with the three division winners earning the top three seeds and the next five best teams in order of regular-season points seeded fourth through eighth.

As was announced earlier this year, the first post-season round will be a best-of-five series; the balance of the playoffs will be best-of-seven.

The complete schedule for the 2011-12 regular season, which begins Oct. 7, will be announced later this summer.

A full listing of the new AHL divisions, with team NHL affiliations in parentheses, is below.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

 

North Division

Grand Rapids Griffins (DET)

Hamilton Bulldogs (MTL)

Lake Erie Monsters (COL)

Rochester Americans (BUF)

Toronto Marlies (TOR)

 

Midwest Division

Charlotte Checkers (CAR)

Chicago Wolves (VAN)

Milwaukee Admirals (NSH)

Peoria Rivermen (STL)

Rockford IceHogs (CHI)

 

West Division

Abbotsford Heat (CGY)

Houston Aeros (MIN)

Oklahoma City Barons (EDM)

San Antonio Rampage (FLA)

Texas Stars (DAL)

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

 

Atlantic Division

Manchester Monarchs (LA)

Portland Pirates (PHX)

Providence Bruins (BOS)

St. John’s (WPG)

Worcester Sharks (SJ)

 

Northeast Division

Adirondack Phantoms (PHI)

Albany Devils (NJ)

Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI)

Connecticut Whale (NYR)

Springfield Falcons (CBJ)

 

East Division

Binghamton Senators (OTT)

Hershey Bears (WSH)

Norfolk Admirals (TB)

Syracuse Crunch (ANA)

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (PIT)

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