Fighting the NHL Lockout Blues

With the NHL lockout continuing to drone along, many hockey fans have been without an entertainment staple for more than a number of months. While the NHL and NHLPA continue to dance around an agreement on the CBA, there are still a number of outlets where fans can get their hockey fix.

Although your weekly pickup or local league games might not do the trick, there is still plenty of hockey being shown across a number of different television networks. In addition, there is probably a good chance that some form of hockey is played at a high level somewhere near your hometown.

Between leagues like the AHL, ECHL and other minor professional leagues, a number of young NHL stars and up-and-coming prospects have been dispersed across the continent during the current work stoppage. While many NHL cities aren’t as lucky as Toronto – in which the AHL and NHL franchises are located down the street – there are plenty of opportunities to catch the action of your particular team’s farm club.

For those lucky enough to have a minor league team in their city, be sure to catch a game. The atmosphere at the games is always family friendly and the hockey is extremely entertaining.

The Canadian Hockey League – comprised of the QMJHL, OHL and WHL – is the most well known form of major junior hockey and has been regularly televised on the NHL Network. Not only are there plenty of teams to root for (68 in all) but there is a good chance that your favorite NHL team is represented in each league by a number of different prospects. Keeping track of the progress of these young players won’t only give you a window towards their NHL potential, but will certainly add new hockey knowledge to your repertoire.

Other junior leagues worth seeking out include but are not limited to the USHL and NAHL. Both leagues serve as the top two junior leagues in the United States and typically produce NCAA talent on a yearly basis. For those who are prospect nuts, the leagues are also great talent pools to monitor for upcoming NHL draft boards. The USHL had 13 players selected in last year’s draft and the league has quickly become a well-stocked pond for NHL talent.

The NCAA also offers a peek at upcoming NHL talent as the American collegiate body has become a tremendous breeding ground for talent. Although there are few Division I programs in the US, there is an impressive number of schools with varsity programs at the men’s and women’s level between DI and DIII. Since the majority of DI programs reside in the Northeast and Midwest, networks like NBC Sports, MSG, Big Ten and others regularly televise season games that bring the sport directly to you. The NBC Sports broadcasts have even pulled familiar faces from regular NHL broadcasts for this season and offer a high production value while often showcasing the nation’s best teams.

Most cable networks carry the channels that will not only bring NCAA hockey to your television, but various CHL games as well. Depending on how desperate you are to see hockey on your TV, there are readily available options on a weekly basis to view some of hockey’s best talent right from your own home.

Depending on where you live and how adventurous you are, exploring hockey in your own backyard will put your butt in the seat at an arena. Should you have a minor league professional team nearby (AHL, ECHL etc.) or a junior franchise, go check out a game. After all, live hockey is always best.

Should minor professional, junior or NCAA hockey not be an option there still should be some options nearby. Outside of scheduling a road trip with friends to catch a game out of town, there is certainly a good chance that an ACHA club resides in your area.

The ACHA is the governing body for club hockey in the United States and boasts over 400 member schools across five division (three men’s and two women’s) and are represented at some of the nation’s largest schools (Arizona State, Oklahoma, Illinois etc.). While the club level is still battling for respect on a national level, many of the power players are competing for talent right alongside NCAA programs. In fact, Penn State was the most recent school to make the jump from the ACHA to the NCAA. Finding out if your local state school has a club team would provide yet another source to quench your hockey craving.

Now that the holiday season has passed, take some time to fit hockey into your New Year’s resolution and maybe the NHL and PA will take the time to fit a CBA into theirs.