The Abbotsford Heat released their matrix of opponents for the 2011-12 season on Thursday morning, and the best news for local fans is that the Vancouver Canucks’ new affiliate will visit the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre four times this season.
During their first two years of existence, the Heat had occupied the old North Division with the Manitoba Moose – formerly the Canucks’ top farm team – and played them eight times per season, four at home and four away.
The Moose were an exceedingly popular draw at the AESC, given the Canucks’ massive popularity in the region. The Heat drew an average of 6,395 fans per game against Manitoba over the past two seasons, compared to 3,579 for non-Moose games.
Off-season franchise shuffling put that arrangement in jeopardy. With the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, the Moose were displaced and landed in St. John’s, Nfld. That franchise will now serve as the top farm team for the new Winnipeg Jets.
The Canucks, meanwhile, signed a two-year affiliation agreement with the Chicago Wolves in late June. Under the AHL’s new three-divisions-per-conference alignment, the Heat found themselves in the reconstituted West Division, while the Wolves are in the Midwest.
The Heat are playing all 76 games against Western Conference foes. They take on their West Division rivals – the Houston Aeros, Texas Stars, San Antonio Rampage and Oklahoma City Barons – eight times each, four times at home and four away. They face non-division foes four times apiece, two home and two away.
The Wolves are the exception to that pattern. Abbotsford and Chicago are slated to meet four times at the AESC and four times in the Windy City this coming campaign.
“It’s important for us to recognize where our natural rivalries are,” Heat communications director Dave Sheldon said. “We’ve always had success with Manitoba at the AESC, and with that (Canucks) team now in Chicago, getting those extra games was something we requested.”
Among other schedule highlights for the Heat, the Charlotte Checkers will make their first trip to Abbotsford this season. The league’s realignment saw the Carolina Hurricanes’ affiliate land in the Western Conference; thus, the Checkers will play a pair of games in the Fraser Valley, with the Heat returning the favor for a pair of contests in North Carolina.
A complete list of the Heat’s opponents for the 2011-12 season is below. The full AHL schedule will be released in August.
Opponents the Heat play eight times (four home, four away):
Oklahoma City Barons
San Antonio Rampage
Opponents the Heat play eight times (two home, two away):
Lake Erie Monsters
Grand Rapids Griffins