By Mike Harrington
While the NHL dawdles over announcing the names of its new four divisions for next year (anytime now, boys), the AHL has released its new configuration in the wake of some franchise shifts and there's a new built-in rival for the Rochester Amerks.
While holding their annual meeting in Hilton Head, S.C. the AHL Board of Governors have announced that the new Utica Comets, the Vancouver farm team, will play in the North Division of the Western Conference with the Amerks, Toronto Marlies (Toronto), Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal) and Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado). The Utica franchise was transferred after last season from Peoria, Ill.
The Abbotsbord Heat, the Calgary franchise located in British Columbia, will no longer be in the absurd geographic location of being in a division with Eastern teams so the Amerks won't have to trek West anymore. The full alignment looks like this:
Atlantic Division: Manchester Monarchs (LA); Portland Pirates (PHX); Providence Bruins (BOS); St. John’s IceCaps (WPG); Worcester Sharks (SJ)
Northeast Division: Adirondack Phantoms (PHI); Albany Devils (NJ); Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI); Hartford Wolf Pack (NYR); Springfield Falcons (CBJ)
East Division: Binghamton Senators (OTT); Hershey Bears (WSH); Norfolk Admirals (ANA); Syracuse Crunch (TB); Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (PIT)
North Division: Rochester Americans (BUF); Hamilton Bulldogs (MTL); Lake Erie Monsters (COL); Toronto Marlies (TOR); Utica Comets (VAN).
Midwest Division: Chicago Wolves (STL); Grand Rapids Griffins (DET); Iowa Wild (MIN); Milwaukee Admirals (NSH); Rockford IceHogs (CHI).
West Division: Abbotsford Heat (CGY); Charlotte Checkers (CAR); Oklahoma City Barons (EDM); San Antonio Rampage (FLA); Texas Stars (DAL).
The regular season schedule will be announced in August. The playoff format remains unchanged, with the three division winners in each conference earning the top three seeds and the next five best teams in order of regular-season points seeded Nos. 4-8.
In other news, the league honored one club from each conference for top revenue growth in four areas and the Amerks were the Western Conference winner for group-ticket sales.