Back in the 1996-'97 season five clubs from New York State represented the AHL and played in what was then called the Empire Division with the following teams: Albany, Adirondack, Binghamton, Rochester and Syracuse. Empire standing for the Empire State of NY. The division was broken up in 2000-'01 and renamed the Mid-Atlantic.
Well, it's back and they're now labeling it the North Division.
Last week the AHL released a totally new divisional alignment which has been introduced and accepted in the fallout of five teams packing their duffel bags and moving out West to form a new Pacific Division as the league expands to be closer to those NHL parent teams on the West Coast.
Here is the new alignment for all 30 teams as the set-up is similar to the NHL format and composed of a new, favorable four divisions versus six in the past. The only team missing is from the Glens Falls area as Utica will be taking their spot. I would assume to qualify for the post season it would be the best eight teams from each conference.
Gone are the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears, but the Senators have renewed ties with the Syracuse Crunch after a year off following last season in the Northeast Division. Also, the Utica Comets will be added as this is shaping up to be a fierce rivalry between all New York State communities for 2015-'16. Toronto and St. John's round out the division.
Let's not forget, Binghamton will be reunited with an old friend as the Rochester Americans will be exchanging elbows once again in the same division. The two older rivals in the league will renew their spirited battles fighting for a title like the good old days before Syracuse and W/B-Scranton joined the league. Whether it was the Dusters, Whalers or Rangers there has been some great memories between the two clubs that has recently gone sour with the Amerks playing mostly in the Western Conference since the Senators inception in 2002-'03.
B-Sens' fans have seemed to warm up to the changes and now realize their team will no longer have to face the Pens in the first round if they make the playoffs, while having the Crunch back makes sense with only an hour separating the two cities. The majority of the Senators schedule obviously will be within their own division with additional matches being planned in the Atlantic to help keep the Pens and Bears in check.
Out west, there has been some chatter of a reduced schedule from the current 76 games that favors a 68 game plan for whatever reasons, but should get voted down during any off season league summer meetings with the Board of Governors.
Binghamton still holds bragging rights between three out of the five rival cities having won a championship in 2010-'11. The other two are the Albany River Rats back in 1994-'95, and the Amerks and their six championships under their belt with the latest one taking place in the 1995-'96 season.
Calder Cup Playoff Updates
In the Eastern Conference, the Hartford Wolf Pack advance after defeating the Hershey Bears in game six and will face the Manchester Monarchs, winners over the Penguins in five games. Manchester should advance to the finals rather easily.
In the Western Conference four teams are still battling out with the Grand Rapids Griffins holding a 3-1 lead over the Rockford IceHogs, and the surging Utica Comets with a 3-2 edge versus the Oklahoma City Barons. Gotta like the Griffins but the Comets are hanging tough.
*Cover Pic Courtesy of Alicia Strauch