Fans of the Rimbey Rock will notice several changes with both the team and the Heritage Junior “B” Hockey League during the upcoming 2009-2010 season.
First, due to the Claresholm Storm taking a one-year leave of absence to reorganize for the next season, the league has decided to realign the teams from two conferences and four divisions to three separate divisions.
As a result, the Rock will play in the Northern Division along with the Ponoka Stampeders, Red Deer Vipers, Stettler Lightning and Blackfalds Wranglers.
The Central Division will feature the Airdrie Thunder, Three Hills Thrashers, Mountainview Colts, Banff Academy Bears and the defending league champion Cochrane Generals, while the South Division will include the Medicine Hat Cubs, Coaldale Copperheads, High River Flyers, Okotoks Bisons and the Strathmore Wheatland.
Each team will play a 36-game schedule, playing four games against each team in its own division including two home and away games, and two games against the rest of the teams in the league, one at home and one on the road.
Also changing will be the league’s playoff format. Last year every team made the first round of the playoffs, however this year, things will be a little tougher as only the top four teams from each division will advance.
The first round will be based on a best-of-five format with the top seed squaring off against the fourth and the second facing the third. The second round will feature the two winners meeting in a best-of-seven series.
From there, things get a bit complicated.
While the winners of the three divisions following the second round will advance to the league semi finals, they will be joined by a fourth team, a wild card team. That team will be determined based on the highest seed – the team with the best regular season record – that was defeated in the divisional final.
If, by chance, two teams have identical records, a tie-breaking system will be implemented to see which team will advance to the final four.
The winners of those two series will advance to the league championships as well as earning berths to the provincial championships.
“This year not all the teams make the playoffs so we’re going to be in a big push to make the playoffs for sure this year,” said new Rock head coach Dean Norstrom. “I think it will be a factor because every team made the playoffs last year so it’s definitely going to be more difficult to make the playoffs but I’m pretty confident that we’re going to have a good enough team to be in the middle of the pack.”
Norstrom also announced that the Rock have entered into a working relationship with the Drayton Valley of the Alberta Junior Hockey League that could potentially see players transferred up and down between the two teams based on their play.
Following this past Sunday’s exhibition game against Blackfalds, the Rock will travel to Ponoka on Sept. 23 to face the Stampeders and then to Blackfalds the following night against the Wranglers before closing out the pre-season on Sept. 27 when they will host Ponoka.
The first home game of the regular season for the Rock will be on Oct. 2 when they will again, face Ponoka.
Game time is 8 p.m. at the Community Centre.