Providence Bruins: AHL Scheduling Format Makes Less Sense Than Before

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Providence Bruins: AHL Scheduling Format Makes Less Sense Than Before
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Even though they are now in separate divisions, the P-Bruins will still confront Bridgeport twice as often as they will St. John's, a newly added divisional foe.

So, the Providence Bruins will meet the yet-to-be-named St. John’s team, their newest divisional rival in the wake of last week’s AHL realignment, four times in the coming season.

Meanwhile, they are to engage their two newly interdivisional rivals from the Nutmeg State eight times apiece. And the Springfield Falcons, another constituent of the newly minted Northeast Division with the Connecticut Whale and Bridgeport Sound Tigers, are to face Providence 10 times just like when they were both in the seven-member Atlantic Division.

Is anybody else lost here? You should be. 

It’s a new alignment, yet the same old kind of slate. Just like in the past two seasons, P-Bruins fans will see their team lock twigs with fellow New England-based teams for more than three-quarters of the schedule.

And just like in both 2009-10 and 2010-11, there will also be two renditions of “O Canada” at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in the coming year. The only difference is that, whereas those previous occasions were for non-conference bouts with the Abbotsford Heat, this year it will be for two and only two divisional games.

In all, the P-Bruins will play 36 of their 76 regular season games against their four Atlantic Division cohabitants. Another 32 games will be against the Northeast Division. The remaining eight will be against three out of the five East Division teams.

Translation: There will be no non-conference action in 2011-12. Nor will Providence face either the defending Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators or the Syracuse Crunch at any time.

This despite the fact that the B-Sens and Crunch are fellow Eastern Conference rivals. This despite the fact that Binghamton and Syracuse combined are less than half the trip to Providence than St. John’s. The two New York towns in question combine for 488 miles from Providence while the capital of Newfoundland is a 991-mile trek to the capital of Rhode Island.

The AHL might as well have stayed exactly as it was with a pair of eight-team and seven-team divisions. Or better yet, it could have slowed down and tried to make a tad more geographic sense when it made the right choice to emulate its parent league and divide its 30 constituents evenly into six five-member divisions. 

Early last week, this author petitioned for a Southern New England Division consisting of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Providence, Springfield and Worcester. Well, the way the P-Bruins have since detailed their list 2011-12 opponents, that arrangement might as well be the case.

But for some reason, it isn’t. What’s the matter? Is AHL president Dave Andrews worried about going over the sense-making cap that’s never been explained to the fans or the pundits but which clearly exists?

To be fair, divisional and regional rivalries are indispensable and it is a relief to see that every New England AHL fan base will continue to get its fill of one another. That being said, what exactly was the point of placing the Bruins time-honored foes from Hartford and Springfield in another division in the first place?

Furthermore, the 2011-12 distribution of matchups will only carry on the trend of giving teams and their followers a little too much of a good thing.

Take a look elsewhere and notice the lack of a get-together with Binghamton or Syracuse, only one encounter at each venue apiece with the likes of Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, not to mention the relatively close Western Conference teams who won’t be stopping by in the near future.

To be precise, 10 of the 15 teams based in the Western circuit are all closer to Providence than St. John’s. That includes Charlotte, Chicago, Hamilton, Rochester and Rockford, all of whom have traded past visits with the P-Bruins.

Knowing that makes it kind of hard to apply the M-word in defense of this format. If the Baby B's can afford one or two nearly thousand-mile ventures to Newfoundland, they could just as easily afford a 330-mile ride to Rochester and a 440-mile trip to Hamilton.

And for those partial season ticket holders waiting to select their games, it’s that much tougher to accept one of the slimmest menus in recent memory; perhaps the slimmest variety of opponents in the team’s soon-to-be 20-year history.

Well, at least there will still be a sufficient number of opportunities to see the Whale and the Falcons. But that still begs the question about the recent realignment and how exactly the unbalanced schedule is supposed to explain it.

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