The American Hockey League is an odd league. It’s basically two leagues within one; the subset of California teams operate under a reduced 68-game schedule and play a ton of games close to home.
The Stockton Heat today unveiled their 2017-18 regular season schedule, and once you dig into it you can really understand why the Calgary Flames (and other teams) pushed hard for the Pacific Division setup that they now have.
Stockton plays 56 of their 68 games within their division. Their division is primarily based in California and the schedule is skewed heavily towards games against the four other California teams (38). That results in only 15 games being played outside of California all season (including four games in Tucson) and a few long road trips that aren’t nearly as bad as they sound.
- A six-game trip from Nov. 22 to Dec. 6 that never leaves California and is spread across three weeks.
- A seven-game trip from Dec. 13-29 that’s also spread across three weeks and is heavily weekend-skewed.
Here’s a quick map of the general area where Stockton will play all but 11 games in 2017-18.
Their entire schedule is heavy on back-to-backs – they play 21 sets – and weekend games – they play 23 times each on Friday and Saturday. Only four of the 21 back-to-backs involve travel of any kind, and one of them involves a two-hour drive from Ontario to San Diego.
The big sales pitch for the Pacific Division was that players would spend more time practicing and developing than they would spend traveling, resulting in cost savings for the teams and players improving. Based on a quick sketch of their schedule and estimates of their travel, the Heat will only take a plane nine times during the season – their major road trips send them to Texas (twice), Cleveland, Winnipeg and Grand Rapids/Milwaukee.
Other than those trips, they spend the vast majority of their time in California. It may not be perfect in the sense that Stockton plays a reduced schedule against a fraction of the rest of the league – there are 18 teams they won’t play at all – but for what the AHL is supposed to be – a development league – the schedule seems to hit all the right marks.