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Syracuse Crunch update: Schedule released

The Crunch will open on the road against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Oct. 10 before returning to the War Memorial Arena for the team's 22nd home opener on Saturday, Oct. 17, against the Binghamton Senators at 7 p.m.

The Syracuse Crunch, along with the rest of the AHL, released their 2015-16 schedule today. The full schedule can be downloaded from the team over at their website.

Here are some tidbits from the team's official release:

The Crunch will face 13 teams from the North and Atlantic Divisions of the Eastern Conference. The most frequent matchups will be 10 games against Binghamton, Rochester and Utica. The Crunch will also play eight each against St. John's and Toronto, six each against Albany and Hershey, four each against Lehigh Valley, Springfield and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and two each against Bridgeport, Hartford and Portland.

January will be the Crunch's busiest month with 14 scheduled games, including 10 road contests. The team will play 13 games in December, 12 in March, 11 in February, 10 in November, and eight each in October and April. This season, the Crunch will see nine three-in-threes, but no more than two in any month.

The most home games fall in February and March, when the Crunch host seven each. The 2015-16 schedule also features a season-high six-game homestand from Oct. 30 to Nov. 18, followed by a six-game road trip from Dec. 27 to Jan. 8.

Thanks to the inclusion of several new AHL teams out west, the entire league underwent divisional changes this past spring. The AHL went from six divisions last season to four for the upcoming season: North, Atlantic, Central, and Pacific.The Crunch went from the once geographically-diverse (and now nonexistent) Northeast Division to the New York-heavy North Division. Syracuse is now in a division with Rochester, Utica, Binghamton, Albany, Toronto, and St. John's, which partly explains why their opponents are spread out the way they are over the upcoming season.

As expected with this kind of divisional change, rivalries now highlight the Crunch's schedule. Rochester and Syracuse have always been rivals, but many felt that a bite had been taken out of their rivalry with the separation of the teams into different conferences.  The new North Division rectifies that, and also unites the Utica Comets with the Crunch. The Comets were another team Syracuse had a geographic rivalry with, but due to their placement in separate conferences, their rivalry never mattered much in the standings. Now, every game will have increased meaning.

The Crunch has historically liked a home-heavy schedule to end the season, and they get their preference again for 2015-16. The Crunch ends the season with seven home games and only four road games in February, seven home and five road games in March, and five home and three road games in April. That span of games could be crucial for Syracuse, especially with the War Memorial's rink expansion nearing its conclusion. The Lightning organization's prospects and AHL players should embrace that expanded ice surface rather quickly, which has the potential to assist with any push the team might need to make towards the end of the season.

Speaking of a possibly significant end-of-season push, it's important to note that almost all of the Crunch's opponents in April are divisional. Syracuse will face Toronto twice (both at home), Rochester once (at home), Albany once (at home) and Utica three times (twice away and once at home). Depending on how the season shakes out, it's already easy to imagine that April alone could make or break the Crunch's playoff hopes.