As part of promoting the AHL’s expansion to California, the league is planning to have its first warm-weather outdoor regular season contest.
The league announced Wednesday that the Stockton Heat and Bakersfield Condors, two of the new AHL clubs that help make up the Pacific Division, will take part in an outdoor game on Dec. 18 at Raley Field in West Sacramento, Calif. The game will be part of the Golden State Hockey Rush.
“This event will be a special showcase for our Pacific Division in its inaugural season,” said AHL president David Andrews. “We look forward to this celebration of hockey outdoors and to sharing the experience with the terrific hockey fans in Northern California.”
The AHL has headed outdoors several times prior to the planned December contest, but it’s the first time they’ve hosted an outdoor game outside of the Eastern United States. Prior to the scheduled game in California, the furthest west the league had travelled for an outdoor contest was in December 2013, when the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toronto Marlies played at Comerica Park in Detroit.
“This event continues to validate just how much hockey has grown in California,” Heat president Dave Piecuch said. “With eight professional hockey teams calling California home and a growing population of youth hockey players developing across local rinks, we felt that this was a great opportunity to help showcase to the hockey community that the sport is alive and well not only in Stockton but all across the state.”
In both the NHL and AHL, outdoor games are generally between two teams that have rivalries. While there are certainly exceptions, the 2015-16 outdoor game stands to breed a rivalry between Stockton, the AHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames, and Bakersfield, the top affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers. Battle of California, anyone?
The Friday night outdoor contest between Stockton and Bakersfield will be a road contest for the Condors and it will be important for both teams to not get lost in the spectacle: due to the AHL’s realignment to fit in the Pacific Division, the five Californian teams will only play 68-game schedules as opposed to the 76 games played by the league’s other 25 teams.