Western Division Schedule Breakdown
First Game: September 21 at Valencia Flyers
The WSHL season will begin on September 21 with only one game on that Thursday night, Arizona against Valencia. The Hawks will be looking for better luck this season, after being swept by the Flyers in the season series last year.
Home Opener: October 13 vs. Ontario Avalanche
After a season-opening six game road trip, the Hawks will open their home slate at AZ Ice Peoria on October 13 with a three-game set against Ontario.
Key Stretch: January 26-March 4
The Hawks will not leave the state of Arizona after a series in Las Vegas in mid-January. Beginning with a three-game series against the Long Beach Bombers from January 26-28, they will play their final 15 games within state lines. 12 of the 15 will be at home against the Bombers, Fresno Monsters, Cheyenne Stampede and Valencia, with the other three being on the road against Phoenix.
Out-of-Division Games: September 29-October 1 at Tahoe Icemen, February 23-25 vs. Cheyenne Stampede
Arizona will face two out-of-division opponents this season. They’ll travel to Lake Tahoe to face the Icemen in the second series of the season. Arizona is 1-4-0 against Tahoe over the past three seasons.
In late February, Cheyenne comes to Arizona. The last time the Stampede came to AZ Ice Peoria was two seasons ago, when they swept the three-game series against Arizona.
First Game: September 28 at Long Beach Bombers
Fresno will have to be ready to go when the season gets underway, as they open the year on the road in Long Beach. The Bombers finished with the most points in the WSHL last season (93), and only lost once on home ice. Fresno will be looking for their first win in Long Beach since a 3-2 victory on October 10, 2015.
Home Opener: October 5 vs. Valencia Flyers
Monsters fans will get their first chance to see the team play at home in early October. Valencia will come to Gateway Ice Center for a three-game series beginning October 5. Fresno went 1-5-0 against the Flyers last season, with the one win coming at home.
Key Stretch: February 8-March 3
The Monsters will try to make the playoffs for the ninth time in franchise history, coming into this season a perfect eight-for-eight in postseason berths. They’ll have some help by playing their final nine games at home, where they were 14-9-3 last season. However, all three opponents were playoff teams last year, as they’ll face San Diego, Long Beach and Ontario.
Out-of-Division Games: None
Instead of scheduling out-of-division games, the Monsters will be playing extra games against Western Division opponents. They’ll have an extra home and away game against Long Beach, Ontario and Valencia scattered throughout the season.
Las Vegas Jr. Golden Knights
First Game/Home Opener: September 28 vs. Ontario Avalanche
Las Vegas will open the season at home in late September against Ontario, who finished one spot above the Knights (Storm) in the standings last season. Vegas fell short of catching the Avalanche last year, and the head-to-head record was a main reason why. The Knights went 1-4-1 against Ontario in 2016-17, but the one win did come at home.
First Away Game: October 20 at San Diego Sabers
After back-to-back home series to start the season, Vegas will head out on the road for the first time on October 20. They’ll make the trip to San Diego, who they enjoyed a 5-1-0 record against last season. It will be the first of two trips the Knights make to San Diego this season, as they’ll play an extra series against the Sabers rather than a second out-of-division opponent.
Key Stretch: January 11-February 10
To start the second half, Las Vegas will play 12 straight games at home. They’ll face Long Beach and Valencia, who have finished 1-2 in the Western Division the past two seasons, along with Arizona and Phoenix making the trip to Vegas. It’ll be important for the Knights to take advantage of this long homestand, with the team playing their final nine games on the road.
Out-of-Division Games: October 12-14 vs. El Paso Rhinos
The El Paso Rhinos will come to Las Vegas this season. It’ll be the second meeting between these two teams, with the only other matchup coming at the Western States Shootout during the 2015-16 season. The Storm Knights out on the wrong end of that one, 8-3.
Long Beach Bombers
First Game/Home Opener: September 28 vs. Fresno Monsters
The Bombers will look to follow up a 46-5-1 season when they get started at home against Fresno in late-September. Long Beach lost only once on their home ice last season, a 3-1 defeat to Ontario in early December. This will be the second consecutive season that they open the year against Fresno at home. In the three-game series to start the 2016-17 campaign, the Bombers swept the weekend, outscoring the Monsters 37-0.
First Away Game: October 14 at Phoenix Knights
Two of the oldest WSHL organizations will go head-to-head in mid-October when the Bombers visit the Knights. The Bombers haven’t lost to Phoenix since December 14, 2012, a 23-game winning streak for Long Beach over the divisional opponent.
Key Stretch: October 27-November 25
Long Beach will play nine games over that month-long span, but only face two opponents, Valencia and Ontario. They’ll play five against the Flyers (4 home, 1 away) and four against the Avalanche (2 home, 2 away).
Long Beach went 5-1-0 against the Flyers last year, with two of their wins needing overtime and a shootout to take down the second-best team in the division. Against Ontario, the Bombers went 4-2-0, and were handed their lone defeat on home ice.
Out-of-Division Games: None
Long Beach, much like Fresno, will not face any out-of-division opponents, except for the Western States Shootout in December. Instead of any non-Western Division teams, the Bombers will play an extra home and away game against Fresno, Ontario and Valencia.
First Game: September 28 at Las Vegas Jr. Golden Knights
Ontario will begin the season on the road against the team that finished right behind them in the standings last season, Las Vegas. The Avalanche went 5-1-0 against the Knights last season, but the one loss came in Las Vegas.
Home Opener: October 6 vs. Phoenix Knights
The Avs will come back home following the three-game series in Las Vegas to face the Phoenix Knights in early-October. Ontario swept the season series against the Knights early last year, as the two teams played all six games against each other in back-to-back weekends in October.
They’ll be looking to get off the right foot again this season at home. Despite a middle-of-the-pack 16-12-1 road record, Ontario more than handled their business at home last season, going 17-5-1.
Key Stretch: November 3-December 10
Ontario will play 14 games over this stretch, with twelve coming at the Ontario Ice Center. If they can recreate their home ice success this season, this portion of the schedule will give them momentum going into the Western States Shootout and the second half.
They’ll face some difficult competition, however. Ontario will see Valencia twice and Long Beach four times over the stretch.
Out-of-Division Games: None
Following in the footsteps of some other Western Division teams, Ontario will not face any out-of-division opponents this season. They’ll play an extra home and away game against Fresno, Long Beach and Valencia.
First Game/Home Opener: September 29 vs. Valencia Flyers
The Knights will look to rebound from a rough season, as they went 7-42-0 last year, when they get the season underway at home against Valencia. Phoenix has dropped seven straight to the Flyers over the span of the past two seasons.
First Away Game: October 6 at Ontario Avalanche
Two seasons ago, the Avalanche and Knights battled for playoff positioning. Last year didn’t go as planned for the Knights, but they’ll try to get back to being a playoff team, starting with their first road test in Ontario.
Key Stretch: November 17-January 7
The Knights will be home for the holidays. Other than the Western States Shootout, Phoenix will not have to travel out of Arizona for nearly two months. They face Fresno and El Paso at home before the showcase, and open up the second half with a three-game series against the cross-town rival Arizona Hawks.
Out-of-Division Games: October 27-29 at Colorado Jr. Eagles, December 1-3 vs. El Paso Rhinos
Phoenix will play six out-of-division games this season against two of the league’s best teams. They’ll travel to Fort Collins, Colorado just before Halloween to face the Jr. Eagles. It’ll be the first meeting between the two teams since they clashed in the 2014 Mountain Division Finals, with the Knights taking two of three.
El Paso will make their way to Phoenix this season for the third straight year. Over the past two seasons, Phoenix is 1-6-0 against the Rhinos.
San Diego Sabers
First Game: October 5 at Long Beach Bombers
The Sabers will be the last team in the Western Division to make their debut this season, waiting until the first weekend of October to travel to Long Beach for two games. San Diego will be looking for their first win against the Bombers since January 9, 2015, back when they were still called the Gulls.
Home Opener: October 13 vs. Fresno Monsters
After a short two-game road trip to start the year, San Diego will be at home in mid-October to face the Fresno Monsters. The Sabers had success against the Monsters last year, going 4-2-0, including sweeping all three at home.
Key Stretch: December 15-January 21
The longest homestand of the season, 12 games, precedes the longest road trip of the season, 10 games. San Diego will be looking to pick up points on home ice as the homestand begins right before the showcase, and continues into the second half. However, they’ll have to do it against the top three teams from last year’s Western Division.
Out-of-Division Games: October 27-29 at El Paso Rhinos
San Diego will only play one out-of-division opponent this season. In late-October, they’ll head to El Paso to take on the Rhinos. It’ll be the third straight season with matchups between San Diego and El Paso. The Sabers are 0-6-0 against the Midwest Division powerhouse over that span.
First Game/Home Opener: September 21 vs. Arizona Hawks
The Valencia Flyers and Arizona Hawks have the honor of being the first game of the 2017-18 WSHL season. The two teams will face off a night before any other team gets underway. Valencia has finished in the top two of the division for the past three seasons, but only once were division champions. The Flyers will want to start strong against Arizona, as they look to compete with Long Beach once again at the top of the Western Division.
First Away Game: September 29 at Phoenix Knights
After three games at home to start the season, the Flyers will travel to Phoenix to take on the other Arizona-based team in the Western Division. The Flyers have won seven straight games against the Knights, with their last loss to Phoenix coming January 15, 2016.
Key Stretch: October 20-November 10
The Flyers will play seven games, with only two at home during this stretch. They’ll face Long Beach four times (1 home, 3 away) and Ontario three times (1 home, 2 away). The results against the other top teams in the Western Division will show how dangerous the Flyers can be this season.
Out-of-Division Games: None
Valencia will face only Western Division opponents outside of the Western States Shootout this season. To make up for the lack of out-of-division games, the Flyers will play an extra home and away game against Fresno, Long Beach and Ontario.
Let me know what you think of the schedule this season, and some of your favorite matchups. You can find me on Twitter @Steven_Force_
Photo courtesy of Marc Mauno