K-Wings and ECHL announce schedule; new conference alignment

KALAMAZOO – Since joining the ECHL five seasons ago, the Kalamazoo Wings have won the North Division crown four times, including this past season.

Regardless of what happens next season, the North Division will have a new champion, as the K-Wings have moved to the new Midwest Division in the Western Conference.

Joining the K-Wings in the Midwest Division are the Evansville IceMen, Fort Wayne Komets and the ECHL’s newest addition, the Indianapolis (Indy) Fuel. In addition, current Western Conference team, the Colorado Eagles, will be in the Midwest Division as well.

The new conference alignment is as follows:

Eastern Conference

North Division

Cincinnati Cyclones, Elmira Jackals, Reading Royals, Toledo Walleye, Wheeling Nailers

South Division

Florida Everblades, Greenville Road Warriors, Gwinnett Gladiators, Orlando Solar Bears, South Carolina Stingrays

Western Conference

Midwest Division

Colorado Eagles, Evansville IceMen, Fort Wayne Komets, Indy Fuel, Kalamazoo Wings

Pacific Division

Alaska Aces, Bakersfield Condors, Idaho Steelheads, Ontario Reign, Stockton Thunder, Utah Grizzlies

In terms of scheduling, which has already been released by the ECHL, nothing will be changing. What will be changing, however, is the format for the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

The top four teams in each division during the regular season will qualify for the 2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs. All four rounds of the playoffs will be played in a best-of-seven format.

The first two rounds of the playoffs will be played entirely within the division with the division winner meeting the fourth-place finisher and the second-place finisher meeting the team that finished in third place in the Division Semifinals. The Division Finals will pit the winner of each series against each other. The winner of the North Division Finals will meet the winner of the South Division Finals in the Eastern Conference Finals while the winner of the Midwest Division will meet the winner of the Pacific Division Finals in the Western Conference Finals. The 2015 Kelly Cup Finals will see the Eastern Conference champion take on the Western Conference champion.

The Board of Governors determined that this would create a more equitable opportunity for all teams to qualify for a playoff position.

Kicking off their 41st season of hockey on the road, the K-Wings will play the first three games on the road, beginning on Friday, October 17th against the Elmira Jackals. The K-Wings first home game will be on Friday, October 24th as they battle the Fort Wayne Komets during the 11th Annual Orange Ice Game.

This season, 30 of the K-Wings 36 regular season games, will be played on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

Other home schedule highlights include the 13th Annual New Year’s Eve Bash versus the Cincinnati Cyclones. The K-Wings will also plan to host their 14th Annual Pink Ice and 4th Annual Susan G. Komen games; however, due to the USA Curling Nationals coming to the Wings Stadium Complex, the games will not occur on Valentine’s Day.

One of the most historic traditions in hockey will continue on Tuesday, March 17th, when the Indianapolis Fuel travels to Wings Stadium for the 34th Annual World Famous “Green Ice” Game.

On December 27th Kalamazoo will participate in the first-ever ECHL Outdoor Game against the Toledo Walleye.

The four teams the K-Wings battle the most this year are the Fort Wayne Komets (15 games; 9 home and 6 away), the Toledo Walleye (13 games; 6 home, 7 away), the Cincinnati Cyclones (9 games; 4 home, 5 away) and the Indianapolis Fuel (6 games; 2 home and 4 away). The K-Wings do not face the Greenville Road Warriors or South Carolina Stingrays during the regular season. All other teams in the Eastern Conference make at least one appearance at Wings Stadium this season.

The ECHL Board of Governors also made the following changes for the upcoming season:

Change to overtime format for regular season:

Teams will start overtime of all regular-season games in the opposite end they started the game.

Approval of hybrid icing

Following the lead of the National Hockey League, the Board of Governors has approved the implementation of hybrid icing for the 2014-15 season.

The hybrid-icing system allows the linesman to blow the play dead and call an automatic icing if he determines that the puck will cross the goal line and the defending player is not behind in the race to the end-zone faceoff dots in his defensive zone. The faceoff would go to the far end of the ice as it did with icings called in the no-touch icing used by the ECHL in the past.

If the attacking player is leading the race, the linesman is supposed to allow the play to continue.

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