That the Abbotsford Heat are in the same division as the Charlotte Checkers is a head-scratcher on the surface.
And yes, that’s Charlotte, North Carolina.
But that’s exactly what the American Hockey League’s new divisional alignment for the 2013-14 season, unveiled last week, calls for.
The Heat and Checkers are part of the West Division of the Western Conference, along with a trio of southern teams – the Oklahoma City Barons, San Antonio Rampage and Texas Stars.
It’s a curiously far-flung collection of squads, but with the vast majority of the AHL’s franchises located in the Eastern time zone, geographical quirks in terms of divisional alignment are inevitable.
“It wasn’t an easy move, from the AHL level,” said Heat president Ryan Walter, who attended last week’s board of governors meeting in Hilton Head Island, S.C.
“But when you start to look at other teams, who else are you going to put in there (in the Western Conference)?”
Given Abbotsford’s isolated location relative to the rest of the AHL, the Heat are always going to travel a lot regardless – last season, as part of the North Division, they were grouped with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Toronto Marlies, Rochester Americans and Lake Erie Monsters (Cleveland).
And while traveling to Charlotte doesn’t do the Heat any favours in terms of their already-onerous travel schedule, it’s worth noting that the local AHL club made the trip to North Carolina for a pair of games each of the past two seasons, as Charlotte was part of the Western Conference.
In the big picture, Walter doesn’t mind the new alignment.
“I know that our coaching staff prefers to go to Texas rather than back east (Ontario/New York) all the time, where the weather isn’t always great – especially the busing situation we often end up in,” he explained.
Among other alignment oddities, the Utica Comets – the Vancouver Canucks’ new AHL affiliate, formerly the Peoria Rivermen franchise – will be staying in the Western Conference as part of the North Division, despite the fact their New York state location seems more indicative of east than west.
Their divisional travel won’t be too bad, though – they’re taking the Heat’s old slot in the North Division, with Hamilton, Toronto, Rochester and Lake Erie.
The Heat, for their part, are happy the Comets are still in the Western Conference. The AHL doesn’t feature inter-conference play during the regular season, and having the Canucks’ farm team continue to visit the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre – where they’re the best-drawing opponent by a long shot – is a boon.
The complete AHL schedule won’t be announced until later this summer, but the Heat are hoping to have four home games against the Comets, as they’ve had the past four seasons with the previous iterations of the Canucks affiliate – the Manitoba Moose and the Chicago Wolves.
“It’s interesting – I talked to Laurence Gilman (Canucks assistant GM) about this, and they want their team here as much as they can,” Walter said. “They want to be able to bring their general manager (Mike Gillis) and their people down to watch games here. It does work out really well.”
A full listing of the AHL’s new divisions are below.
Manchester Monarchs (LA)
Portland Pirates (PHX)
Providence Bruins (BOS)
St. John’s IceCaps (WPG)
Worcester Sharks (SJ)
Adirondack Phantoms (PHI)
Albany Devils (NJ)
Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI)
Hartford Wolf Pack (NYR)
Springfield Falcons (CBJ)
Binghamton Senators (OTT)
Hershey Bears (WSH)
Norfolk Admirals (ANA)
Syracuse Crunch (TB)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (PIT)
Hamilton Bulldogs (MTL)
Lake Erie Monsters (COL)
Rochester Americans (BUF)
Toronto Marlies (TOR)
Utica Comets (VAN)
Chicago Wolves (STL)
Grand Rapids Griffins (DET)
Iowa Wild (MIN)
Milwaukee Admirals (NSH)
Rockford IceHogs (CHI)
Abbotsford Heat (CGY)
Charlotte Checkers (CAR)
Oklahoma City Barons (EDM)
San Antonio Rampage (FLA)
Texas Stars (DAL)