Heat happy with new-look schedule

The American Hockey League released its 2011-12 regular season schedule on Thursday, and the Abbotsford Heat are pleased with the hand they've been dealt.

The American Hockey League released its 2011-12 regular season schedule on Thursday, and the Abbotsford Heat are pleased with the hand they’ve been dealt.

The AHL revamped its scheduling framework earlier this summer, extending the playing calendar by a week while reducing each team’s regular season slate from 80 to 76 games.

Part of the upshot is, the league has eliminated all sequences in which teams play four games in five nights. The decompressed schedule is less fatiguing for players, as well as being more fan-friendly.

In the Heat’s case, they see a significant decrease in back-to-back home games.

Due to Abbotsford’s geographic isolation relative to other AHL cities, visiting teams always play two games against the Heat on each trip out west. In seasons past, those games had nearly always been back-to-back. In 2010-11, 19 of the Heat’s 20 two-game home sets happened on consecutive nights. This season, just 11 of 19 local sets are back-to-back.

“This is a real bonus for our fans and for our hockey team,” Heat president Ryan Walter said. “We recognize that for many of our fans, devoting two consecutive nights to hockey is a big commitment. While back-to-back games have not been eliminated, this schedule goes a long way to making it more convenient for our fans to attend both games.”

The Heat open the season with a pair of games on the road against the Lake Erie Monsters, Oct. 7-8. The home opener is Friday, Oct. 14 against the Rockford IceHogs.

Other interesting tidbits from the Heat’s schedule:

• The Heat are partnering with the Abbotsford School District to host a midweek day game at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, March 6 against the Houston Aeros. The event will dovetail with Heat educational initiatives, most notably their reading program.

“Other franchises in the AHL have done this, to huge success,” Walter noted.

• For the second year in a row, the Heat will stage one of their home games at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. They take on the Oklahoma City Barons, the Edmonton Oilers’ AHL affiliate, on Feb. 9. Last year, the Heat and Barons drew a crowd of 8,407 at the Saddledome.

“As much as we’re thankful for the Calgary Flames and the players they bring our way, we think this is a great way to give back to them, so their fan base gets a chance to see some of their young guns,” Walter said.

• Another function of the decompressed schedule is that the Heat host fewer midweek games. Last season, the Heat had 12 home games combined on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays. They have just six such games this season.

• Sunday afternoon games are a hallmark of the Heat’s new-look schedule. After hosting just three Sunday home games over their first two seasons in Abbotsford, the Heat will have seven in 2010-11. All of the Sunday tilts begin at 1 p.m., and Walter believes the earlier start time will be convenient for families.

“You have a faith-based group here, a large component, and we want to be careful about all we do on Sunday,” he said. “We’d like it to be a family time.”

• The Chicago Wolves, the Vancouver Canucks’ new AHL affiliate, will play in Abbotsford four times this season: Jan. 24 and 25, and March 29 and 30. Games against the Canucks’ farmhands have traditionally been the Heat’s hottest ticket.

• None of the Heat’s road trips would necessarily be described as epic, at least in comparison to previous seasons. In 2009-10, the Heat had a nine-game road swing, and they had a 10-game stint away from home in 2010-11. The longest jaunt this coming season is a seven-gamer in mid-November which will see them visit the Houston Aeros, Texas Stars, San Antonio Rampage and OKC Barons.

• The Heat have not scheduled any exhibition games against fellow AHL teams, but Walter said the club is working on arranging some other preseason dates, including an intrasquad game.

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