The Syracuse Crunch, AHL farm team of the Tampa Bay Lightning, released their 2018-19 schedule this past week. The Crunch will be celebrating their 25th anniversary this upcoming season, and fans have a lot to look forward to. With the release of their schedule, anticipation is building quickly.
One of the biggest changes in the schedule this season took the form of a concerted effort by the league to really bring down the numbers of dreaded 3-in-3 weekends. In general, the AHL is a weekend league, with team owners preferring Friday/Saturday/Sunday games over games during the week. This usually led to a fair number of exhausting weekends where teams would be in action all three of those days.
A few years ago, the league completely eliminated the incredibly evil 4-in-5, much to the relief of both fans and players. This season’s steps towards dropping the 3-in-3 has also been met with positive reactions, especially from those in the Eastern Conference. Teams in that conference tend to be more closely situated together, which often would led to more busy weekends than teams in the Western Conference. The Crunch only has two weekends with three games - one in March and one in April - which is down from four 3-in-3 weekends last season.
Former Crunch goalie Mike McKenna, now with the Ottawa Senators organization, also saw a decrease in 3-in-3’s with his new team in Belleville. McKenna backstopped Syracuse to the Calder Cup final in 2016, and has had an AHL career that has spanned 13 seasons. He reacted appropriately on Twitter:
Only two 3x3's this season? In the East?!? pic.twitter.com/htXsW17WTv— Mike McKenna (@MikeMcKenna56) July 11, 2018
By day, the Crunch’s schedule breaks down as follows:
Crunch 18-19 schedule by day
Obviously, with the AHL being a weekend league, the majority of the Crunch’s games are on Fridays and Saturdays. The decrease in 3-in-3 weekends has led to a slight increase in games throughout the rest of the week.
The AHL doesn’t feature inter-conference play during the regular season, so all of the Crunch’s opponents come from the Eastern Conference. The schedule by team and division breaks down as follows:
Crunch 18-19 schedule breakdown by opponent - North Division
|12, 6 home/6 away||12, 6 home/6 away||10, 5 home/5 away||6, 3 home/3 away||6, 3 home/3 away||6, 3 home/3 away||4, 2 home/2 away|
Crunch 18-19 schedule breakdown by opponent - Atlantic Division
|4, 2 home/2 away||4, 2 home/2 away||2, 1 home/1 away||2, 1 home/1 away||2, 1 home/1 away||2, 1 home/1 away||2, 1 home/1 away||2, 1 home/1 away|
The AHL has gone up to 31 teams this season to match the NHL’s addition of the Vegas Golden Knights last season. Colorado is the newest team in the league, and their addition forced Cleveland to move from the Western to the Eastern conference. Cleveland was added to the Crunch’s North Division, so while it certainly isn’t surprising that they appear on the schedule, it is a bit vexing that they only appear four times. The last time Syracuse and Cleveland matched up against each other was in 2012-13, when the team was known as the Lake Erie Monsters and was affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche. Cleveland is now affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The majority of the Crunch’s games are against teams in their division. Rochester and Utica are the team’s biggest rivals, so those games are allotted accordingly. After rivalries, travel expenses and gate numbers will pretty much always reign supreme when it comes to setting the schedule for the AHL. This means that even within a division, teams like Binghamton get preference over teams like Cleveland.
The Crunch’s longest home stand is five games long, and they get to experience that kind of a stretch twice. The first is from January 21st-February 2nd, and the second is from February 20th-March 2nd. The team’s longest road trip is also five games long. From December 12th-21st, the Crunch will visit Toronto, Laval twice in one weekend, Springfield, and Lehigh Valley.
Broadcaster Lukas Favale made note of the team’s heavy March schedule:
The #SyrCrunch have 16 games in March, which matches a franchise record for most in a single month (December 2007 and March 2002). Those previous two instances were done in an 80-game schedule. This is the first 16-game month in a 76-game schedule. https://t.co/yJY74JgMUQ— Lukas Favale (@LukasFavale) July 11, 2018
Some dates that Crunch fans might be looking forward to:
October 5th—Season opener in Hershey
October 10th—First matchup at Rochester
October 13th—Home opener against Charlotte
October 26th—First matchup against Toronto
November 2nd/3rd—McKenna visits for two games with Belleville
November 30th/December 1st—First trip to Cleveland since 2012-13 season.
January 11th—Cleveland’s first visit to the War Memorial since 2012-13 season.
January 21st—special 1 PM home game against Binghamton on MLK Day
April 13th—last regular season home game, against Rochester
April 14th—season finale at Utica
Finally, Patrick Williams of NHL.com noted that the AHL schedule runs a week longer than the NHL schedule. While this has been pretty much par for the course over the past few seasons, it can be really helpful for AHL teams expecting players back from their NHL affiliate in time for the playoffs.