In the event of an NHL lockout, the Abbotsford Heat are in prime position to take advantage.
A front-loaded slate of home games is one of the hallmarks of the Heat’s 2012-13 schedule, released last Friday.
Ten of the Heat’s first 13 games of the campaign will be played at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre. That’s in marked contrast to last season, when just eight of the Heat’s first 25 games were at home.
The home-heavy itinerary in the early going would seem to stand the Heat in good stead if there’s an NHL work stoppage, in terms of generating local interest in the absence of NHL games.
Abbotsford opens at home on Friday, Oct. 12 against the Peoria Rivermen, and Heat president Ryan Walter said he’s happy with the hand his team has been dealt.
“I think it’s as good as we can get at home,” he said. “We have 13 Friday nights, 13 Saturday nights. We’re really pleased about that.”
The Heat are switching divisions this season, moving from the West to the North. That means they’ll see more of their Canadian rivals, the Toronto Marlies and the Hamilton Bulldogs. Both teams visit the AESC four times.
The Heat have also retained their eight-game series – four home, four away – with the Chicago Wolves. The Vancouver Canucks’ affiliate is far and away the Heat’s best-drawing opponent, and they visit on Oct. 19-20 and Jan. 11-12.
“Having the Wolves come to town in October, we think, is going to be very powerful,” Walter said. “Hopefully it allows us to get off to a great start, and allows some new people to experience our game. We obviously want to work towards selling those out.”
The local franchise experimented with Sunday matinees last season, scheduling seven 1 p.m. starts, but those game drew poorly. This season, the Heat have just three Sunday games, and they all start at 4 p.m.
“For whatever reason, that was our worst draw consistently,” Walter noted. “Saturday night is just a little more attractive time for the game of hockey.”
The Heat are also bringing back the School Day Game, a partnership with the Abbotsford School District. Last year’s inaugural event drew 5,802 fans, despite the fact that a teachers’ strike derailed plans to bus students from school to the rink.
This year’s school game, featuring the Rochester Americans, is on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 10:30 a.m.
Season tickets and flex packages are on sale now; single-game tickets go on sale to the general public in September.
For a full Heat schedule, visit theahl.com.