Breaking down the 2016-17 Stockton Heat schedule

The American Hockey League announced its 2016-17 regular season schedule on Monday, providing a glimpse of what the season will be like for the National Hockey League’s 30 affiliate clubs. More importantly for those that follow the Calgary Flames, it’s a chance to see what the season will be like for the Stockton Heat.

Here’s how the second season in Stockton looks.

For the second year in a row, Stockton plays 68 games – as do the other California AHL teams – as opposed to the 76 games played by the rest of the league.

Here’s this season’s breakdown, compared with the composition of last season’s schedule:

Team 2016-17 2015-16 Any changes?
Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton) 12 12 Nope
San Jose Barracuda (San Jose) 12 12 Nope
San Diego Gulls (Anaheim) 10 12 2 fewer games
Ontario Reign (Los Angeles) 8 12 4 fewer games
Tucson Roadrunners (Arizona) 8 New divisional team
Texas Stars (Dallas) 6 6 Nope
San Antonio Rampage (Colorado) 4 6 2 fewer games
Charlotte Checkers (Carolina) 4 4 more games
Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit) 2 2 more games
Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville) 2 2 more games
Iowa Wild (Minnesota) 2 2 fewer games
Manitoba Moose (Winnipeg) 4 4 fewer games
Rockford Ice Hogs (Chicago) 2 2 fewer games

So the biggest change is the introduction of the Tucson Roadrunners, the new Arizona farm team, who join the division and really help cut down on some travel for Stockton. The Heat play 10 other teams instead of 9, which makes the whole California adventure for the AHL seem a little bit less wacky (and more like a professional sporting enterprise).

The upside of the California-skewed schedule is less travel time and more time spent at home, as even the “road” games aren’t that far off. (There’s also zero occurrences of three-games-in-three-nights for the Heat this coming season.) However, if you’re hoping to see the Heat get Jon Gillies into a lot of games, the challenge will be the sheer number of back-to-backs (and three-in-fours) that the Heat play.

  • Back-to-backs: 23 times
  • 3-games-in-4-nights: 9 times
  • 4-games-in-6-nights: twice

But these numbers may be a bit deceiving, as only a stretch of games in January – a January 25 home game followed by January 27 in Milwaukee and January 28 in Grand Rapids – sees the Heat travel very much. So expect to see a fair amount of David Rittich in Stockton this season, if only because the Heat play a lot of games on back-to-back nights and the Flames probably want to make sure Gillies gets through a full season unscathed.

On the other hand? Lots of back-to-backs and not much travel continues the much-vaunted glut of practice days for the California AHL clubs. And lots of back-to-backs without travel means if you want to take a trip down to California to check out some games, there are some good opportunities.

  • December 16 & 17 (in San Diego): Stockton previously plays on December 14 and play again on December 20, so fly in early and hang out for the week. It’ll be warmer than Calgary.
  • March 15 (in San Diego) & March 17 (in San Jose): Take your pick! So-Cal or Nor-Cal! Or go to both, if you feel like it.
  • March 24, 25 & 28 (in Texas): The Stars minor league team plays in a suburb of Austin. Austin is one of the coolest cities in the U.S. The Heat play there three times in a week. It could be a really fun trip.

The Flames’ AHL affiliate has made the playoffs once in the last four seasons. With a really young, talented group of Flames draft picks in Stockton this year, and head coach Ryan Huska in his third year behind the bench, it sure would be nice for the minor league team to break out this season and get back to the post-season.