Back when there wasn’t hardly an Internet and Leafs prospect Lonny Bohonos was in the league’s top ten in scoring, there was an Empire Division. It was not named after the apple (created in Cornell, NY) or the Romans. (though the Marlies will see plenty of Syracuse and Utica, and pass Rome and Troy in their travels next year) It was so named because New York’s nickname is the Empire State. You might know this because they built a building around this theme somewhere downstate. The Marlies will join this division, except it will be called the North Division, next season as they move to the Eastern Conference.
This division and really the entire Eastern Conference is what people think about when they think of the old time American Hockey League. The Hershey Bears, the Rochester Americans, the Providence Bruins, the buildings where basketball isn’t the main tenant, the cities where players drive themselves to away games, cold harsh Atlantic winters, third and fourth generation fans, struggling urban environments and unique old rinks (along with some impressive new ones)
The Marlies whose empire relates more to those who were loyalists to the Crown and the Ice Caps of St. John’s whose empire 52.3% of voters thought might be better served joining with Canada back in 1948 round out the New York five: Albany Devils, Binghamton Senators, Rochester Americans, Syracuse Crunch and the Utica Comets.
While Utica (Vancouver) and Rochester (Buffalo) are familiar opponents as well as the Ice Caps who will be the Hamilton Habs team transplanted, likely a lot more games against the Binghamton Senators will be featured. Albany (New Jersey) and Syracuse (Tampa) will be heavy in the mix too.
Marlies fans may also see some of the Atlantic Division though the schedule won’t be out for awhile. That includes Bridgeport (NYI) Hartford (NYR) Hershey (WAS) Lehigh Valley (PHI) Portland (FLA) Providence (BOS) Springfield (ARZ) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (PIT)
What may go missing? A nice rivalry, but one the Marlies may be happy enough to see out the door, in Grand Rapids (DET) and always a good set with Chicago (StL). Will Lake Erie remain in a cross conference two step? Certainly a lot less, if any, games against Oilers and Flames affiliates in Bakersfield and Stockton. The Jets club will be in Manitoba and likely would be happy to see gate receipts from a Toronto game or two but can the Marlies on a competitive level afford to entertain many out of conference games. One of the reason they caught up and made the playoffs this past season was playing games against teams that they had to catch. Out of conference games likely won’t excite the coaching staff unless the entire league takes part evenly.
The yearly meetings for the governor’s will produce a schedule to argue over but that won’t be until mid -summer.