The Alaska Aces next season will play the most diverse schedule in their ECHL history and travel farther than they have in 12 previous campaigns on the minor-league hockey circuit.
The Aces will play 15 different opponents in the 28-team league, the most in their history, surpassing the 13 opponents they played in their debut season in 2003-04.
And they will twice journey to the Eastern Time Zone, marking the first time since 2010 they have headed that far east in the regular season.
By comparison, the Aces this past season played just six different opponents and never traveled farther than the Mountain Time Zone.
The ECHL on Monday announced its 2015-16 regular-season schedule, featuring the traditional 72 games for each club, with the usual split of 36 home games and 36 road games.
Unlike last season, when all of Alaska's road games took place in the Mountain Time Zone or Pacific Time Zone – only two time zones and one time zone removed from Alaska, respectively -- 15 of its 36 road games next season will be played in the Eastern Time Zone (nine) and Central Time Zone (six). The Eastern Time Zone is four hours earlier than Alaska and the Central Time Zone is three hours earlier.
That substantial change in scheduling marks the fallout from the announcement earlier this year that three California cities in the ECHL – Bakersfield, Ontario and Stockton -- next season will instead be home to teams in the American Hockey League, one notch below the NHL. That transition cost the Aces three traditional opponents, all located in the Pacific Time Zone.
The ECHL did not lose any teams because the California franchises were transferred to locations in the Eastern Conference. Bakersfield will move to Virginia and become the Norfolk Admirals, Stockton will pull up stakes for Glens Falls, New York, and become the Adirondack Thunder, and Ontario will transfer to Manchester, New Hampshire, and become the Manchester Monarchs.
Alaska's home schedule, which last season featured six different opponents, next season will feature eight different opponents. And six of those clubs -- Missouri, Rapid City (South Dakota), Evansville (Indiana), Allen (Texas) and Fort Wayne (Indiana) -- will visit Alaska for the first time.
Aces managing member Terry Parks, who engineered the club's upcoming schedule, said diversity of opponents was his principal aim.
"I think it's better for us, a lot better for us,'' Parks said. "I get tired of seeing Utah or Idaho all the time. I think it'll be great for our fans.''
Aces coach Rob Murray, who will be entering his fifth season, said he likewise is eager to see unfamiliar opponents.
"To me, it's exciting, and I think it's going to be exciting for the fans,'' Murray said. "Now, we see teams like Evansville, Allen, Rapid City and Missouri. We're going to see a lot of teams we haven't seen before. I'm looking forward to it.''
As previously announced, the ECHL will continue to feature a 14-team Western Conference and a 14-team Eastern Conference, with each conference split into three divisions. The Aces will play in the West Division of the Western Conference, along with traditional rivals in the Idaho Steelheads, Utah Grizzlies and Colorado Eagles, and also the Rapid City Rush, which entered the league last season.
The three division champions in each conference will earn the conference's top three seeds for the playoffs next season, with the teams with the next five highest point totals also making the eight-team postseason field in each conference.
Though Alaska's eight road trips in the 2015-16 season are one more than it took last season, Parks said early planning indicates the club will spend a total of 61 days on the road next season, four fewer than last season.
Parks said preliminary budgeting indicates the club's travel costs for airline fights and per diem could be slightly less than last season, principally because the Aces will fly to several locations -- Chicago and St. Louis, for instance -- served by Alaska Airlines. Parks said the team last season spent about $240,000 on air travel and $90,000 on per diem. Hotel costs for road teams are generally covered by home teams.
The Aces will open the season with a six-game homestand at Sullivan Arena, entertaining the Missouri Mavericks on Oct. 16, 17 and 18, and Idaho on Oct. 21, 23 and 24.
More than half of Alaska's opponents next season – eight of 15 – are teams the Aces have never played in the regular season. Those clubs are Rapid City, Quad City (Illinois), Indy (Indiana), Evansville, Greenville (South Carolina), Allen, Fort Wayne and Wichita (Kansas).
The most difficult road stretch for the Aces arguably will be a six-game swing to the South in January, when they will play six games in nine days. That trip starts with three games at Gwinnett (Georgia), one at Greenville and two at South Carolina. Alaska in one stretch last season played nine games -- seven home, two road -- in the space of a 12-day span that also included two travel days to and from Boise, Idaho.
The Aces next season also face a season-long, nine-game roadie that takes them to Rapid City, Colorado and Idaho from mid-February to early March.
Alaska will have nine homestands – three of six games each and five of three games each. It will have eight road trips, ranging between two games and nine games.
Also, the Aces' schedule features eight different opponents at home and 13 different opponents on the road.
The Aces will for the ninth straight season have a home game on New Year's Eve when it entertains Utah in the opener of a three-game series.
For the complete Aces schedule next season, click here.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing