The Stockton Heat are slated to rejoin the Pacific Division after playing the past season in the Canadian Division, the AHL confirms. News came out of the American Hockey League on June 7 regarding a plan for the 2021-22 season, including the intention to develop a full 72-game schedule. The abridged 2020-21 season left the Stockton Heat playing the seventh-least amount games in the league to accommodate difficulties around the pandemic.
The Heat will rejoin familiar division rivals such as the San Diego Gulls, San Jose Barracuda, Tucson Roadrunners, Colorado Eagles, Ontario Reign, and this year’s Pacific Division Champions, the Bakersfield Condors. They will also get their chance at new foes such as the Henderson Silver Knights and the Vancouver Canucks’ AHL team out of Abbotsford, British Columbia. With the Heat back in this division, it makes it the largest division in the AHL with nine participating teams.
The Stockton Heat played this past shortened season in the reworked Canadian Division to ease barriers that come with travel restrictions, mandated quarantine periods, and overall accessibility that has been hindered since the rise of COVID-19. The Heat played out of their NHL parent club’s venue, the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. Unfortunately, they were unable to play in front of fans during their 30-game season.
Playing the upcoming season alongside an Abbotsford team will also be a little bit of deja-vu for the organization and coaching staff, especially. The Stockton Heat were formerly the Abbotsford Heat from 2009-14. Current Heat Head Coach Cail MacLean was an assistant coach for the Abbotsford Heat from 2011-13. With Abbotsford now occupied by a Canucks affiliate team, at least the jersey colour scheme will not match the Flames-esque jerseys they had in the past.
Returning back to Stockton, California was the expected outcome following the season in Calgary, but the Calgary Flames fan community would have very likely enjoyed seeing their prospects and hopeful future Flames play in front of them on home ice. The players and coaches expressed their content for the experience in the Canadian Division multiple times in post-game interviews throughout the season and appreciated the opportunity to get fresh looks at teams they have never played before or haven’t played in quite some time. They had a good run at the start of the season but ultimately finished at the bottom of the Canadian Division with an 11-17-2-0 record.
With the AHL season agreements announced, further updates to the Calder Cup Playoffs format are expected to come at a later date. The full schedule for the Heat’s 2021-22 season is also expected to be released later in the summer, according to a press release from the team.
The American Hockey League will open up regular season play on Friday, October 15.