The Bakersfield Condors are going outdoors on Friday night, but nowhere close to their own nest.
For what’s been dubbed the Golden State Hockey Rush, the Condors and the rival Stockton Heat (Calgary) are both on the road to the California state capital of Sacramento for a matchup at Raley Field, home of the Triple-A baseball River Cats. Having been there for a handful of River Cats-Edmonton Trappers tilts back in the day, I can say it’s without a doubt one of the nicest minor-league parks around. How it will serve as a backdrop for Triple-A hockey is up for debate.
What is also up for debate, well, rather discussion is the reason behind the Condors and Heat both playing on the road, and specifically in Sacramento, for an outdoor game when both teams have outdoor facilities in their hometowns. The Condors could have hosted at Memorial Stadium where the Bakersfield College Renegades play football, while the Heat could make a temporary home out of Banner Island Ballpark where the Single-A Ports play.
Instead it’s off to Sacramento. Why?
Sacramento is being considered for an AHL franchise and the GSHR is being used as a test to gauge interest and what level of support hockey would receive on a full-time basis.
The Golden 1 Center is currently under construction and will be the new home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings starting next season. It will also host the opening two rounds of the 2017 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but there’s room for another full-time tenant. Just who could fill that bill from an AHL perspective is up for consideration.
The San Jose Sharks have it made with their farm team literally across the hall of the SAP Center, but the AHL Barracuda aren’t a bite with local fans. A 117-mile (188 km) jaunt between the two cities would be nothing so it seems that is a logical fit while still keeping five California teams in the Pacific Division.
The probable Barracuda move has sparked additional chatter of more changes to the AHL’s western landscape. It’s all considerable speculation, but here the major talking points:
- The Vancouver Canucks having their AHL team in Utica, New York, makes zero geographical sense. The Calgary Flames previously had their affiliate in Abbotsford, B.C., and that was a mess but it’s totally logical to put the Canucks AHL squad in Abbotsford.
- The Arizona Coyotes station their prospects in the Oilers’ one-time spot, Springfield, Massachusetts. With some shuffling, the Coyotes could be better suited in San Antonio, Texas, where the Colorado Avalanche currently have their troops.
- The Colorado Avalanche have a potentially very easy option. The Colorado Eagles are one of the last remnants of the ECHL’s western contingent, and Windsor, Colorado, is only 57 miles (92 km) to Denver.
- All of that would leave ECHL western leftovers Idaho and Utah – both decent and long-term minor-league hockey markets. Sometime down the road, it’s probable the NHL expands or transfers teams to Las Vegas and Seattle. That takes care of two primary affiliates in close proximity right there. The Coyotes could also shuffle that deck more with their Triple-A team going to Utah and the Las Vegas Black Knights having a castle in San Antonio. If the Quebec Nordiques return, there’s Springfield or Utica available.
It’s all food for thought right now, but things can change very quickly. Who’d have thought 5-10 years ago, that California would have five AHL teams to go with three NHL clubs?
SEE YOU FOR THE HOLIDAYS
The Condors are on the road all week with a game in Stockton, then the outdoor game, and a Sunday stop in Ontario. They don’t play again in Bakersfield until Boxing Day against Stockton but that starts a run where six of their next eight are at home.
It will be interesting to see what kind of lineup the Condors can field considering the number of players that were expected to be here are now in Edmonton. It’s probable they’ll get Jujhar Khaira back and that will be a big help down the middle. That move could push Marco Roy, Greg Chase, Braden Christoffer or Kellen Jones to ECHL Norfolk.
Up front, a healthy Tyler Pitlick makes a huge difference to the lineup as evidenced by his return when he able to create with his speed and tenacity.
As the new year approaches, the Condors’ playoff chances rest on fending off San Jose, and potentially having to overtake division-rivals San Diego and San Antonio as well potential crossover foes in Grand Rapids, Chicago, and Charlotte.
After Christmas till the end of the regular season, the Condors play both San Diego and San Jose seven times apiece plus six against San Antonio, and one against Grand Rapids.
To make something happen playoff-wise, the Condors are going to have to find some scoring from players beyond the veteran quartet of Brad Hunt (team-leading 19 points), Matthew Ford (15), Andrew Miller (15), and Ryan Hamilton (9). The main two that need to pick it up are Bogdan Yakimov and Anton Slepyshev. Their totals of six and four, respectively, have been bogged down by injury and call-ups, but 10 points out of arguably the Oilers’ two most dynamic offensive minor-league prospects doesn’t cut it.
They have chemistry as a duo but they need a competent third wheel (Khaira?) and of sense of urgency when it comes to finishing chances.