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For First Time in Three Years, AHL Plans Full Season

BY DON SCOTT

Here are some news and notes about the American Hockey League’s 86th year, with 31 teams playing a total of 1,118 games, starting on Friday, October 15 and ending on Sunday, April 24. The 2021-22 regular season starts with six games on Oct. 15 and a total of 29 games over opening weekend.

The Hershey Bears open their 84th season on home ice hosting the Charlotte Checkers on Saturday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. The Checkers visit Hershey for their first contest affiliated with the Florida Panthers and Seattle Kraken. Hershey’s home opener will mark the first time in 594 days that the Bears will welcome fans back to Giant Center at full-capacity. Opening weekend action continues the following afternoon when the Bears entertain Lehigh Valley at 3 p.m.

The Abbotsford Canucks, the AHL’s newest club, begin their inaugural season on Oct. 16 with a road game against the Bakersfield Condors. The Canucks’ home opener is set for Oct. 22, when the Henderson Silver Knights visit the Abbotsford Centre.

After sitting out the abbreviated 2020-21 season, the Springfield Thunderbirds, Charlotte Checkers and Milwaukee Admirals all return to action on Oct. 16. The Thunderbirds host the Hartford Wolf Pack in their first game as the top affiliate of the St. Louis Blues, and the Admirals play host to the Grand Rapids Griffins.

The Utica Comets begin their affiliation with the New Jersey Devils when they start the season at home on Oct. 17 vs. Rochester, 34 years to the day after the first AHL game was played at the ‘Aud’. The Devils’ AHL affiliate was previously based in Utica from 1987 to 1993.

The Rochester Americans, members of the AHL since 1956, will skate in their 5,000th regular-season game on Feb. 25, 2022, when they visit the Syracuse Crunch, the top affiliate of the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Twenty seven of Hershey’s 38 home games will take place in October to January. The Bears play five home games in October, seven in November, and six in December, while the club’s busiest month at Giant Center is January, when the Bears host nine home games. Hershey’s longest home stand comes in January, as the Bears skate on home ice for four straight games from Jan. 8-15 and Jan. 22-29. 

Additional highlights of Hershey’s home schedule include a pair of holiday games versus Providence. The Bears will host the Bruins for the club’s traditional Thanksgiving Eve game on Wednesday, Nov. 24, while also welcoming Providence for an Easter Sunday game on Apr. 17.  

Hershey hosts home games on Sunday afternoons (17), while also playing home games on Tuesday (1), Wednesday (9), and Saturday (11). Home games will once again start at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday nights. Sunday games will start at 3 p.m. or 5 p.m. Overall, the 2021-22 schedule features seven “three in threes” where Hershey will play three games in three nights.

Hershey plays 12 times in December, January, March, and April, while the club’s lightest month is October with just seven games. Hershey’s longest road trip is four games, occurring twice from Feb. 18-25, and Mar. 4-11. 

The Bears will play all teams in the Eastern Conference with games against Lehigh Valley (14), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (12), Charlotte (8), Bridgeport (6), Hartford (6), Providence (6), Springfield (6), Cleveland (4), Syracuse (4), Belleville (2), Laval (2), Rochester (2), Toronto (2), and Utica (2).

Every game this season will be streamed live on AHLTV and the Laval Rocket will host the 2022 AHL All-Star Classic, scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 6 and Monday, Feb. 7 at Place Bell in Laval, Quebec.

There are six Saturdays, and one Friday, Feb. 11, this season when 30 of the league’s 31 teams are in action: Nov. 6, Jan. 15, Jan. 22, Jan. 29, Mar. 5; and Mar. 19.

Games scheduled by day of the week are: Monday (20), Tuesday (40), Wednesday (199), Thursday (23), Friday (306), Saturday (360) and Sunday (170).

A total of 23 teams will qualify for postseason play with five rounds of playoffs leading to the crowning of a Calder Cup champion that is expected to finish by June 23.

In each of the AHL’s four divisions, all but two teams will qualify for postseason play in 2022, creating a playoff field of six teams in the Atlantic Division, five in the North Division, five in the Central Division and seven in the Pacific Division. Teams will be ranked by points percentage in the regular-season standings.

First Round match-ups will be best-of-three series. The top two teams in the Atlantic Division, the top three teams in each of the North and Central Divisions, and the first-place team in the Pacific Division receive byes into the best-of-five Division Semifinals, with the First Round winners re-seeded in each division.

The Division Finals will also be best-of-five series, followed by best-of-seven Conference Finals and a best-of-seven Calder Cup Finals series that is expected to finish by June 23.

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