The American Hockey League’s all-Canadian division is expanding by one team for the unprecedented 2020-21 season. After officially announcing the Manitoba Moose would solely battle the three other Canadian clubs, the league announced a change to those plans on Thursday.
The Stockton Heat will play the 2020-21 season out of Calgary – the club’s NHL affiliate. This decision was made solely due to cross-border travel and player access related to COVID-19 health protocols.
“We are appreciative of the City of Stockton and the San Joaquin County Public Health Office for the work they put forward in attempt to accommodate the team for this season,” Flames Assistant General Manager Brad Pascall said. “However, the complications of cross border travel in the face of COVID-19 has brought us to our decision today.”
Despite the league and Heat releasing their 2020-21 regular season schedule just days prior and players seemingly being uninformed of the relocation, AHL President Scott Howson made the move official in a league-issued press release.
“The Heat will join the Belleville Senators, Laval Rocket, Manitoba Moose and Toronto Marlies in the AHL’s Canadian Division for 2020-21,” the release read. “The schedule for the Canadian Division, as well as a revised schedule for the Pacific Division, will be released in the coming days.”
This news of a fifth Canadian Division team serves the Moose well, to the extent of road game travel. With Laval, Toronto and Belleville located within the same general area of Canada, Manitoba was the outlier set to put on thousands more kilometres than the remaining three Canadian Division teams. That is, until the news of the Heat moving north.
Despite the relocation for 2020-21, Stockton made it very clear that this change of scenery would be for the 2020-21 season only, and not a continued theme. With the five-year host city agreement expiring following the 2019-20 season, the Heat and the city of Stockton did agree to a single-season extension for 2020-21, however, the current global pandemic had other plans.