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BIRD'S-EYE VIEW: Top 5 Schedule Highlights

Tuesday, May 25th
BIRD'S-EYE VIEW: Top 5 Schedule Highlights

BIRD’S-EYE VIEW:  Top 5 Schedule Highlights

Blog #35 – May 25, 2021

By: John Peterson

Now that we have a 2021-22 schedule, we can officially turn the page from a strange winter without K-Wings hockey toward an exciting chapter ahead.

Yes, I realize that the current ECHL season is still ongoing and 14 teams will have a chance to secure eight playoff spots for a coveted chance to hoist the Kelly Cup. But to quote any head coach I’ve ever worked with: “We’re not focused on what they’re doing. We’re focused on us.”

With respect to those teams who opted to play this season, we haven’t stopped working, brainstorming ideas, or counting down the days until it is our turn. Our triumphant return to Wings Event Center will commence Saturday, October 23, when the K-Wings face-off against the Toledo Walleye to open the 2021-22 regular season.

Beyond that, we now have a full 72-game schedule to look forward to. 36 home games and 36 away games. As much as I love golf season, the sunshine and warm weather, can we just bypass the summer and fast-forward to training camp?

All 72 games will be broadcast on the ECHL’s new streaming platform FloHockey and on your local radio airwaves (details to come). But perhaps the most exciting prospect of returning to play this fall is seeing a packed arena on Vanrick Drive after nearly 20 months of silence and solitude.

The theme nights, the giveaways, the goal horn, the rivalries and the friendly faces bring so much anticipation, I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. Except Christmas Day is still 150 days away.

Let’s look ahead at some of the reasons we can’t wait to hit the ice in 2021-22. These are the top five things I’m looking forward to from the K-Wings schedule.

5. THE OPENER

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), October 23 will be special. When the puck hits the ice and Kalamazoo tangles with Toledo, it will have been 591 days since the K-Wings’ previous game.

A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into doing everything possible to sanitize Wings Event Center and enhance safety protocols, recruit a roster of talented players, and plan a full promotional calendar. And that was for 2020-21. Ultimately, the K-Wings joined 11 other teams and opted out due to safety concerns at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just think of how much work is already going into playing in 2021-22. Stopping short of guaranteeing anything, I feel pretty confident in saying we’re playing hockey this year.

Following a summer full of player signings, theme night announcements and other surprises, training camp will commence in October leading up to the big debut.

Another nice feature to Opening Weekend is the K-Wings Home Opener is a stand-alone game. Instead of starting the season with a two-game or three-game weekend, all our focus will be dedicated to one big show.

4. A NEW RIVALRY IN THE HEARTLAND

It won’t happen overnight, but you can bet by seasons end the K-Wings will have another rivalry for fans to latch on to. The new ECHL franchise in Coralville, Iowa, who we now know is called the Iowa Heartlanders, will be a familiar foe in 2021-22.

Kalamazoo and Iowa meet ten times next season and, while the ECHL hasn’t announced updated division alignments yet, it’s probably a safe bet to expect to see the Heartlanders in the Central Division. I honestly have no information one way or the other, but the Mountain Division didn’t lose any teams so it is hard to see them gaining one.

The K-Wings first travel to Coralville for a Sunday afternoon tilt November 14 after a Saturday night home game against Indy. That game might be a quiet inaugural matchup, but the rivalry will have a chance to ramp up as the season continues.

The Heartlanders host the K-Wings for a two-game weekend series January 28-29, which might be a great opportunity for those diehard hockey fans who like to see their favorite team play on the road. Kalamazoo then welcomes Iowa to Wings Event Center for the first time February 18-19.

Iowa travels to Kalamazoo again in mid-March for a big weekend that I’ll get into in a moment.

3. RIDING THE RAILROAD

Most of Kalamazoo’s road trips will again be a few short hours down the road to Fort Wayne, Toledo, Indy and Cincinnati. The two exceptions where the K-Wings travel to non-traditional markets is a November three-game swing to Utah and a February three-game series in Massachusetts.

The jaunt out to the Rocky Mountains will be the furthest distance traveled. Who is ready for the 9:10 p.m. ET start times? In all seriousness, Utah is a fun place to visit and one I haven’t experienced in nearly three years. The K-Wings have never faced the Grizzlies out in West Valley City, so this will be a first.

But the trip I’m most looking forward to is Kalamazoo’s journey to Worcester February 4-6. It'll be the K-Wings' first three meetings ever with the Railers, so this will be fun to see a new team and a new city.

Even though the Railers franchise is relatively young, there’s a rich hockey history in the city of Worcester, including most recently the AHL’s Worcester Sharks. Like the K-Wings, the Railers do a tremendous job giving back to their community.

Personally, I’ve never stepped foot in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, so I’m looking forward to checking another state off the list.

2. GREEN WEEKEND REDEMPTION?

Looking back at the cancellation of the end of the 2019-20 season, one of the biggest disappointments was the loss of the K-Wings’ first-ever Green Ice Weekend. Everything screeched to a halt one day before the first of back-to-back sellouts that were scheduled to bring a new exciting chapter to Kalamazoo’s most famous hockey tradition.

The ECHL’s schedule-makers must’ve read our minds, because the 2021-22 grid offers a possible opportunity to replicate Green Ice Weekend. The Iowa Heartlanders come to Wings Event Center for two games March 18-19 and the Wheeling Nailers visit Kalamazoo Sunday, March 20.

So far, only the Friday game (March 18) is confirmed as the annual Green Ice Game, but on our recent “Just Wingin’ It” Schedule Release show, K-Wings Governor and Business Operations Director Toni Will hinted at the possibility of turning it into Green Ice Weekend if the demand calls for it.

Remember, the team initially planned only one Green Ice Game in 2019-20, but extended it to Green Ice Weekend when it was clear the first game would be a sellout weeks beforehand. If that’s the case again this season given the anticipated rollback of crowd restrictions, don’t be surprised to see a green canvas March 19 (and maybe even March 20).

1. RETIRED TO THE RAFTERS

Another secret that is already out ahead of the 2021-22 campaign: the K-Wings will be retiring two more jersey numbers this season. This was also revealed during the team’s Schedule Release special.

Kalamazoo last retired two jerseys during the 2018-19 season, honoring team legends Kevin Schamehorn and Georges Gagnon. Schamehorn’s number-26 and Gagnon’s number-1 will never be worn by another K-Wings player, joining Mike Wanchuk, whose number-22 jersey also hangs from the Wings Event Center rafters.

We’re adding two more. Stay tuned for more details on which K-Wings alumni will be honored and what dates the ceremonies will take place. Tentatively, one of the jersey retirement games will be Fan Appreciation Night on Friday, April 15.

There have been so many great players to don the winged-K sweater throughout the years and I’ve been fortunate to meet many of them. So many alumni are deserving so it will be difficult narrowing it down to two. Once that information is announced to the public late this summer, I’m sure those two games will be hot tickets in town.

Until then, keep close for more news, information, player signings and fun content as we count down the days to October.

--

Bird’s-Eye View is a Kalamazoo Wings blog, written by the team’s Director of Public Relations/Broadcaster John Peterson. The thoughts, opinions and behind-the-scenes stories are that of the writer alone and not a reflection of the organization as a whole. Fans are welcome to submit questions and ideas for future blog posts to jpeterson@kwings.com. Enjoy!

Upcoming Home Games

Full Schedule
'DUMB AND DUMBER' NIGHT | $3 FRIDAY
Friday, March 8th
'DUMB AND DUMBER' NIGHT | $3 FRIDAY
Puck Drops:
7:00 PM EST
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Indy Fuel
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'MASCOT MADNESS' GAME
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'MASCOT MADNESS' GAME
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3:00 PM EDT
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Toledo Walleye
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'GAME SHOW' NIGHT | $3 FRIDAY
Friday, March 15th
'GAME SHOW' NIGHT | $3 FRIDAY
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