|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)|
Before the season came to a screeching halt, the biggest surprise and shock of the year was the loss of the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL. The Rampage may have already played their last game in the league if the suspension turns into a cancellation. Texas has counted on the Rampage for eleven seasons to be an easy roadtrip down I-35 for up to fourteen games in a season where the Stars could play that night and still wake up in their own beds the next morning.
Now, they're on an island alone.
With the loss of the OKC Barons, Houston Aeros and Rampage, Texas sits all alone in the state. Every road trip requires a commercial plane flight. If you'd believe it, the closest two AHL team to Cedar Park are now the Tucson Roadrunners and Colorado Eagles.
It's bad news for Texas's ability to practice, but it's not without precedent in the league. The Charlotte Checkers and Manitoba Moose are both without a bus trip in their entire schedule. Let's take a look at Charlotte's schedule grid to learn more about what Texas can expect next season.
The Checkers joined the league in 2010 and have bounced between the Eastern and Western Conferences in that time. Until 2015, the Checkers had at least one bus trip, the Norfolk Admirals. When the Ads headed west to become the San Diego Gulls, that dramatically changed their schedule.
"We've got to just gotten used to it," noted Nick Niedzielski, Checkers Director of Communications and former Texas Stars intern, when reached by phone last week.
Just a glance at the PDF version of the 2019-20 schedule for the Checkers reveals quite a bit through the grouping of the colored boxes. There are no one-offs. If you're going on the road, it's going to be for at least two games but more commonly it's for three or more.
If you're home, it's the same story. Because every team coming to play you is also on an island at that point, there are tons of back-to-backs in the schedule. In fact, every single home game on the schedule was part of a back-to-back night pairing.
|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)|
The split of home games from first half to second half of the season is relatively even. After Christmas, the team gears up for bigger crowds, just as you'd expect in Texas with football season ending and the holidays reminding people of winter sports.
"The front half of each month after Christmas [is] heavy home games. So we get a lot of groups coming in ahead of time, so we're already scheduled on that. We're getting a lot of our promos and stuff. It's more condensed. There's less random games [without] promos. We keep those promo nights and group nights heavy in the second half of the year."
One of the main concerns for the NHL clubs in their AHL development is practice time. Texas has always had less practice time than an Eastern Conference team just by the nature of their schedule. This does lower potential practice days, but there are ways to adjust.
"A lot of times with having the plane trips, they'll practice in the morning of the day, then they'll fly out that afternoon just to get that extra [practice] time in."
Some things to look forward to are a continuation of fewer 3-in-3s in general and none at home. Charlotte only had one this year, but it would have brutally spanned three cities: Hartford, Bridgeport and Providence (note that these games were not played due to COVID).
The way Texas's schedule shakes out depends heavily on how much the Pacific division teams are going to factor into the grid. This year, Texas did not play a single team from California but did play Tucson and Colorado. If the schedule is heavy on Central Division, it's not without precedent. The first year the California Five joined the league, the Wolves only played the Central Division and two teams from the Pacific all year. It would be a bit boring, but it would be a schedule.
Here's hoping for a full 76 in 2020-21.