There will be a new division in the American Hockey League's Western Conference for the 2013-14 season to go along with two new teams, the league announced Thursday.
The West Division replaces the previously named South among the six divisions in the approved league alignment. The 15 teams in the Eastern Conference remain in the same divisions from 2012-13, but there will be some shuffling to accommodate two new franchises in the Western Conference.
AHL hockey will return to Utica, N.Y., for the first time in 20 years when the Utica Comets drop the puck on the 2013-14 season. The Comets, which will be the Vancouver Canucks' affiliate, are in the North Division along with Rochester, Lake Erie, Toronto and Hamilton. The Comets replaced the Peoria Rivermen as the league's 30th franchise.
The AHL is also returning to Des Moines, Iowa, after a briefer hiatus. The Iowa Wild will replace the Houston Aeros after the Minnesota Wild announced they were moving their AHL affiliate to Des Moines in April. The Wild will join Chicago, Rockford, Milwaukee and Calder Cup-champion Grand Rapids in the Midwest Division.
The Abbotsford Heat are moving from the North to the new West Division with Charlotte, Oklahoma City, Texas and San Antonio. The only change in the Eastern Conference is the New York Rangers' affiliate, formerly named the Connecticut Whale, has returned to being the Hartford Wolf Pack for 2013-14.
The AHL also announced the playoff format will remain the same. Each division winner and the next five best teams by points in each conference will qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs. The first-round series will be best-of-5, the others will be best-of-7.