SYRACUSE, NY – Waiting for AHL teams to release their schedules usually feels like an eternity to fans. So much has to go into the creation of the AHL schedule – the NHL and NBA schedule for those teams sharing space with those leagues, other building obligations, owner requests and desires, etc. – that it seems like a miracle every season it even gets finished in the first place. It is certainly no small feat, even in the best of times.
Whatever may come this upcoming season, one thing is now certain: The Syracuse Crunch has a full slate of 76 games on tap, and they intend to play them all.
Syracuse, like every other AHL team, hasn’t faced a full schedule of games since the 2018-19 season. The 2019-20 season was cut short in March by the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, while the uncertainty about that same pandemic stunted the 2020-21 season significantly, with Syracuse only playing 32 games. All of the Crunch’s home games last season were played without fans. Currently, the team is hoping fans will be able to pack the War Memorial arena for every single game played there.
Syracuse will play the upcoming season in a redesigned North Division featuring Rochester, Laval, Belleville, Utica (newly aligned with the New Jersey Devils), Toronto, and Cleveland. Last season, the Crunch only played Rochester and Utica out of that group (when Utica was still partnered with Vancouver). Syracuse will continue to be in the Eastern Conference, which is also made up of the Atlantic Division. The Atlantic consists of Springfield, Hartford, Hershey, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Lehigh Valley, Bridgeport, Charlotte, and Providence. Syracuse will face all of these teams at least twice. As usual, they will not play teams from the AHL’s Western Conference during the regular season.
Not all of the teams in the North Division will be playing the same amount of games this season. Previously, this scheduling quirk was limited to the Pacific Division, but with the AHL’s goal of getting down to a flat 72-game schedule for all of its teams in 2022-23 getting the green light, some teams elected to make the shift this season.
Reminder that North Division teams will play different number of games this season. #SyrCrunch play 76.
Utica: 72 https://t.co/ejlG3tJTL0
— Lukas Favale (@LukasFavale) July 23, 2021
What affect does this have on division rankings for the playoffs? In an attempt at equaling things out, the AHL currently uses percentage points across the league, averaging wins and losses instead of just using point totals. Thankfully this only has to go on for one more season.
A couple other important things to note about the Crunch’s regular-season schedule for 2021-22:
- Syracuse will play in-state rival Utica 14 times, split evenly between seven home games and seven away games. Utica’s new affiliate, New Jersey, used to be affiliated with an AHL team in Binghamton, NY. Unfortunately, that partnership dissolved a few months ago, leaving Binghamton without an AHL club. Although Syracuse is fairly used to playing the Devils’ farm team, it was unable to during the 2020-21 season, so the rivalry should feel fairly fresh (…for at least four games or so, anyway).
- Syracuse will play rival Rochester 12 times. Last season, Syracuse went 7-4-1-0 against the Amerks.
- Syracuse will see the other team they played last season, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, four times in 2021-22. The Crunch won the season series against them in 2020-21 with a 5-1-0-0 record.
- The Crunch will face Cleveland, Belleville, and Laval eight times each. It should be noted that both Laval and Belleville are Canadian teams, so everyone best have their fingers crossed the border opens up before the start of the season. Syracuse first faces a Canadian team – Laval – when they visit the War Memorial in November. The Crunch won’t need to cross into Canada until mid-December when they head to Toronto, a team the Crunch will play four times overall.
- Syracuse’s remaining slate is made up of four games each against Charlotte and Hershey and two each against Bridgeport, Hartford, Lehigh Valley, Providence, and Springfield.
The 2020-21 season schedule was intentionally built spaced out, both because of the lesser amount of games and so that any cancellations or rescheduling related to the pandemic could be accommodated. Last season, Syracuse played six games in February, seven games in March, 12 games in April (an amount that was mostly due to COVID-related rescheduling), and seven games in May. For the 2021-22 season, December, January, March, and April will be the Crunch’s busiest months, with 12 games scheduled each month.
Traditionally, team owner Howard Dolgon has favored a home-heavy end of the season, preferring the comforts of the War Memorial during that final, harried playoff push. This has been the team’s tradition for pretty much as long as memory serves. For whatever reason though, the upcoming season will deviate from that plan. Not only does Syracuse have a four-game road trip in April, where the team visits Utica, Hartford, Providence, and Toronto in six days, the final month of the AHL season will actually hold the most road contests with seven. The most home games in a month the team will see fall in November and January when Syracuse hosts seven each month.
One of the more contentious parts of the AHL schedule are the dreaded three-in-threes, where teams play three games in three nights. This season, the Crunch will see that combination three separate times, once at the end of February against Rochester (home), Utica (home), and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (away), and twice in April. The first three-in-three in April comes during the road trip mentioned previously, while the second caps off Syracuse’s season with a final stand against Belleville and Laval at home and Hershey away. Of note is that the league’s change to a 72-game schedule in 2022-23 should all but eliminate three-in-threes, something the league has been trying to do for a while.
It is, of course, impossible to predict how the 2021-22 AHL season will be affected by the pandemic. However, it’s probably fair to say that the league and its teams are already anticipating what will need to happen to keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible. But right now, looking at a full slate of games, it’s hard not to be anything but optimistic about the season being played in its entirety.
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