Three-division alignment could be in AHL's future Notebook


The American Hockey League could play under a new format next season.

Instead of the traditional two-division setup, it was proposed at the last AHL Board of Governors meeting that the league be split into three divisions of five teams in each.

The Toronto Maple Leafs reportedly are unhappy with their current arrangement in Newmarket, Ontario, and are expected to move that franchise to either St. John's, Newfoundland, or Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

This move would put five teams in the Canadian Maritime Provinces: Cape Breton, Halifax, Fredricton, Moncton and the Toronto-sponsored team. These teams would form the Eastern or Maritime Division.

The Baltimore Skipjacks would be in the Western Division with Hershey, Rochester, Utica and Binghamton. Capital District, Maine, Springfield, New Haven and Adirondack would form the Central Division.

The Skipjacks and other Western Division teams would play each team in their division 10 times -- five home and five away -- each team in the Eastern Division twice, and teams in the Central Division six times each.

Everything is contingent on Toronto moving its Newmarket franchise and the AHL's Board of Governors approving the new setup at their next meeting in April.

"I'm one of the chief protagonists for the realignment," said Skipjacks owner Tom Ebright. "I'd like to see the league return to more regionalized play and play more games against traditional rivals. We had to give up games against teams like Rochester, Binghamton and Adirondack, longtime Baltimore rivals, when Capital District came into the AHL last year."

Ebright also said that there is a possibility that the AHL and International Hockey League could one day merge and play inter-league games. He said he attended a meeting in Chicago recently at which independent owners of franchises in both leagues discussed the subject.

* One of the best jokes coming out of the Washington Capitals-Philadelphia Flyers game Feb. 10 at the Capital Centre -- which featured a third-period free-for-all and 294 minutes in penalties -- concerns a near altercation in the press box.

The Flyers' Rick Tocchet and Jeff Chychrun, both injured and watching the game from the press box with Flyers assistant coach Ken Hitchcock, were being berated by Washington fans. Tocchet and Chychrun sat quietly, but Hitchcock started to leave the press box, apparently to confront the fans, and Tocchet and Chychrun followed him. Capital Centre security people stepped in and prevented anything from happening.

The joke going around the Philadelphia organization is that Tocchet and Chychrun tried to stop the portly Hitchcock but couldn't get their arms around him.

* Terry Murray, Washington coach, said a fight like the one his PTC Capitals were involved in can go a long way in bringing a team together.

"While I wouldn't want to see something like that [the third-period brawl] happen every week, sometimes I think an incident like that can help a team that is trying to find its identity," Murray said. "We are a team that is almost entirely different from the one that went to the conference championship series against the Boston Bruins last spring. Losing players like Scott Stevens, Geoff Courtnall, Neil Sheehy and Bob Rouse and replacing them with Mikhail Tatarinov, Dimitri Khristich, Peter Bondra, Mike Lalor and Dave Tippett changed the chemistry of our team.

Murray said the team has been on "an emotional roller coaster" since he took over as coach in January of last year, but he sees things turning around. The acquisition of players such as Al Iafrate, Ken Sabourin and John Kordic (now suspended for alcohol problems) gives the team more toughness, he said.

* Defenseman Rod Langway (back) and center Bondra (shoulder) both have been skating in practice with the Skipjacks while the Capitals were on their western trip, and both reportedly are ready to return to action, possibly by Friday when the Patrick Division-leading New York Rangers come to the Capitals Centre in Landover.

Right wing Reggie Savage (pulled groin muscle) is still about two weeks away, and defenseman Neil Sheehy (back) still is not ready.

The Capitals' No. 4 draft choice of last year, left wing Randy Pearce, who broke his ankle in the Skipjacks' last exhibition game of the season in October, has had the cast removed from his leg and has started a therapy program. He hopes to be skating by early in the summer and ready for training camp in September.

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