I have yearned for the day that the Penguins would announce that they have mixed in a Western Conference opponent onto the schedule for the coming year and year after year I have been left disappointed.
Not this year.
The Penguins announced Thursday afternoon the schedule of opponents for the 2017-18 season. Along with the usual suspects in Hershey and Allentown you can also add the Rockford IceHogs, the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Milwaukee Admirals to the list of opponents that Wilkes-Barre will face-off with in 2017-18.
The Hershey Bears will follow suit with the Penguins in taking on Rockford, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids. I didn’t see any other Eastern Conference teams mention any Western Conference flavor.
As to when, my guess is a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday date starting in Rockford, traveling to Grand Rapids then Milwaukee and flying out of Milwaukee Sunday afternoon for the Penguins. The full schedule will be announced in the summertime.
The American Hockey League also announced divisional reformatting again with the losses of St. John’s and Albany and the additions of Belleville and Laval. The Penguins divisional opponents shall be the following:
Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Hartford Wolf Pack
Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Yes, Virginia, the Charlotte Checkers are back and are in the same division as the Penguins. The last time we saw the Checkers in Wilkes-Barre was six years ago when the Penguins collapsed in Game Six and lost to the Checkers. It will be good to see Charlotte come home to the East where they belong and in the Penguins division.
On Bellevelle and Laval, the Penguins will be heading there too as the Senators (Belleville) and Rocket (Laval) are the two teams that replaced essentially Albany and St. John’s. Along with those two teams, the Penguins will also face the Marlies, Binghamton Devils, Crunch, Americans and Comets to fill out their schedule.
Coal Street did not put out a matrix of how many times the Penguins will face off against the opponents on the schedule for next year but I did see that Charlotte will play the Penguins four times, Binghamton six times and Hershey twelve times. Wilkes-Barre will probably play the IceHogs, Griffins and Admirals twice, once at home and once on the road.
With the way that the divisions are uneven, you are probably looking at the crossover coming back for next season. The League didn’t specify details on playoff format for next year other than to say that an announcement will come in July.
One more thing before I go out the door, Jason Botterill was named as the General Manager of the Buffalo Sabres today. Botterill was one of the guys behind the scenes that built the roster on Coal Street. His departure will be missed, but I have the full faith that Jim Rutherford will name an individual who will step in his place and pick up where he left off.