The American Hockey League is starting the inaugural season of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms with a tip of the helmet to the present and the past.
The Phantoms, the top affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, will open their first season in the Lehigh Valley by visiting the rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the top affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11.
The very next game offers a bow to the past when the Phantoms christen the new 8,500-seat PPL Center in downtown Allentown by taking on the Adirondack Flames of Glens Falls, N.Y., the place the Phantoms called home the last five years, at 7:05 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17.
"It's nice to kick off our schedule with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton game," Phantoms Executive Vice President Chris Porreca said on Wednesday from the team's Allentown offices. "It's a close rivalry and it's going to be important for the organization and fans and continue to be something special. Even though we were in Adirondack the last five years, the rivalry seemed to boil over."
The Phantoms played in Glens Falls awaiting the construction and completion of the PPL Center. They played their previous 13 seasons as the Philadelphia Phantoms, owned by the Flyers until they were sold to the Brooks Group of Pittsburgh in February 2009.
"Adirondack coming here for our home opening night puts a cap on everything Rob and Jim [Brooks] and the organization tried to do for the people up there in Glens Falls," Porreca said. "They put a financial model in place that would work for another team coming in to start playing there."
The Phantoms, who did not make the playoffs during their time in Glens Falls, end the regular season by hosting the Penguins in a 3:05 p.m. game Sunday, April 19.
The 2015 AHL All-Star Classic is set for Sunday, Jan. 25 and Monday, Jan. 26, and the league will have all 30 teams playing on five dates: October 18, November 14, March 21, April 17 and April 18.
New this season, the AHL is conducting an experimental overtime that extends the five-minute period to seven minutes and will reduce the teams to three-on-three beginning in the fourth minute of overtime.
The Phantoms are playing in the East Division of the Eastern Conference of the AHL. Divisional rivals include the Penguins, Hershey Bears, Binghamton Senators and Norfolk Admirals.
The Phantoms will play a 76-game schedule, 38 at home and 38 on the road, with 16 different opponents coming to the PPL Center. The team plays 42 games within the division, including 12 each against Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 10 against Binghamton and eight against Norfolk.
The team plays 30 other games against Eastern Conference opponents, and just four against Western Conference foes (two each against Adirondack and Toronto of the North Division).
The Phantoms play 16 Eastern Conference games against teams in the Northeast Division (Albany, Bridgeport, Hartford, Springfield and Syracuse) and 14 against the Atlantic Division (Manchester, Portland, Providence, St. John's and Worcester).
In the dreaded back-to-back-to-back category, in which AHL teams play three games in three days, the Phantoms picked up seven sets, an average of one each month of the season, but two in a row for the first six games in December.
"We try to avoid those as much as possible, but there are only so many dates in the season," Porreca said. "Those dates are going to happen and it will prepare the players. They're professionals and they'll make it happen and perform to the best of their abilities."
The first set of back-to-backs-to-backs is Oct. 24 at home with Hershey, Oct. 25 at Binghamton and Oct. 26 at Hershey. The only one with two home games in the mix comes Jan. 16 (home with Albany), Jan. 17 (home with Binghamton) and Jan. 18 (at Hershey).
The season ends at Norfolk April 17, at Hershey on April 18 and home with the Penguins on April 19.
The Phantoms play only three home Sunday games, with the first March 22 against the Pens. Game time is 5:05 p.m.
"We're very happy with our schedule," Porreca said. "There are 29 other teams the league has to accommodate with schedules that work for them, but we are ready to bring top-notch hockey to the Lehigh Valley."
The Phantoms play just 11 home games on weekdays (not counting Fridays), with nine on Wednesdays.
By day of week, the Phantoms will play 14 home Saturday games, 10 home Friday games, nine home Wednesday games, three home Sunday games, one home Tuesday game and one home Thursday game.
Overall, they play 28 on Saturday, 22 on Friday, 13 on Wednesday, 11 on Sunday, one on Tuesday and one on Thursday.
The Phantoms also host exhibition games Wednesday, Oct. 1 against the Hershey Bears and Saturday Oct. 4 against the Albany Devils.
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