Great Skate will be hosting a Bauer Days event on Saturday, August 16 from 12pm until 4pm. The event will give players a chance to get an up-close and personal look at all of Bauer’s gear for the upcoming season with some great deals on hockey’s most cutting edge equipment.
A 15% off sale on both hockey gear and goalie equipment during the #BauerDays event gives you a chance to restock your bag with the best from Bauer’s trio of equipment lines or the pair of groundbreaking goaltender lines. Whether you’re looking for the impressive anatomic fit of the Supreme TotalOne NXG gloves, the classic look and feel of the Nexus skates or the new-and-improved APX2 protective line, Bauer Days will not only allow you to check out the latest and greatest, but the discount ensures you’ll get your new gear at a great price.
Bauer events have always been a can’t miss for hockey players. The ability to get a peek at some of Bauer’s newest gear while also having the opportunity to test out others is a highlight of the offseason. Then, there’s the swag.
The first 200 players to arrive at the event will receive a free Bauer swag bag and the first 200 parents will receive a free Bauer coffee mug. There are few things cooler than branded merchandise from an equipment manufacturer. Of course, you can’t beat free either.
Be sure to get to Great Skate early on Saturday morning to lock up your swag bag or coffee mug and be the first to experience Bauer’s impressive line of gear.
The Superfast, in addition to inverting many of the graphics from the previous two RBZ sticks (white to red) will utilize new technology to add an even higher C.O.R. to the blade. This is an improvement to the RBZ Stage 2 blade that already featured a much hotter blade than the original RBZ stick.
CCM is referring to the new feature as the SpeedPocket which will be an even wider area when compared to the Speed Channels in the Stage 2 that offers a quicker release. The theory at work here comes over from golf and CCM’s partnership with TaylorMade and the focus on hot, springy club faces on clubs. The original RBZ used hollow areas in the blade that helped to create a trampoline effect on the blade, thus helping players develop a stronger shot.
The evolution saw CCM alter the Speed Channels to take up a bit more space and add a bit more heat to the puck. Now, the Speed Pocket will help to increase the results of you shot even more. It’s my expectation that the Speed Pocket will be one large opening inside the blade compared to the smaller channel designs the defined the Speed and Freak Channels on the RBZ and Stage 2, respectively.
The other, more obvious change is in the graphics package. While the look and colors remain the same, CCM has gone with a primarily red stick that transitions to black at the top of the shaft. This differs from the white blade and shaft of both the RBZ and Stage 2 which really served to define the line and link the product to TaylorMade in terms of design.
The RBZ SuperFast hits shelves in August and will give CCM one of the most sought after products as the 2014-15 season is set to begin.
Jason Spezza headlined the biggest trade of the offseason to this point. His transition to Dallas certainly sets the Stars up for another playoff run and perhaps a berth into the later rounds in a very difficult Western Conference.
While the What They’re Wearing feature has been gone for a little while, Spezza’s trade from Ottawa to Dallas sets the table to take a closer look at the gear worn by the offseason’s biggest trade pice.
Stick: Easton Synergy HTX – Easton’s newest stick is a throwback, of sorts, to the composite stick that started hockey’s arms race. The HTX is ultra lightweight and boasts Easton’s Hypertuned technology that matches the stiffness of the shaft to the stiffness of the blade.
Gloves: Warrior Covert – A terrific glove that offers a slightly more anatomically inspired fit than the classic design and fit of the Dyansty (formerly Franchise) gloves. The retail model of the Covert DT1 uses Warrior’s Bone System to provide more backhand protection and I’d be interested to see if Spezza wears a model with the Bone system or if he chose to remove it from his gloves.
Helmet: Easton S9 – Spezza appears to still be using an older model Easton helmet with a more basic foam liner than the EPP and comfort foams seen in the higher end helmets on the market today. The S9 was quite popular throughout the league when Easton first ventured into the helmet market and it’s not too surprising to see Spezza sticking with this model.
Skates: Reebok Ribcor – Spezza’s interesting gear selection is capped with Reebok’s newest skate, the Ribcor. A responsive skate that promotes agility and change of direction, the Ribcor is the flagship of Reebok’s skate line as we move through the summer and into 2015.
With Free Agent Frenzy set to open the checkbooks will be ablaze with action around the NHL. There will be different approaches taken by different teams as competitors will be looking for a player to push them to the next level, Cup contenders will want to fill that last missing piece and even some of the league’s bottom feeders will be actively looking to reshape their rosters.
The 2014 free agent class lacks premier names but certainly contains fair quality across the board. Here are a handful of names at each position that will be worth tracking starting today at noon.
Ryan Miller: Miller cost himself some serious money with a substandard playoff performance in St. Louis. He’s a systems goaltender through and through and it seemed as if he was out of his depth behind St. Louis’ roster. While he’s searching for a contender, the shallow market may leave him without many options. He’d thrive on a club where he’d see steady action each night while still being supported by a strong cast of forwards and defensemen. I don’t think he’ll be on the market long before making his choice.
Jonas Hiller: Hiller looks as if he’ll have a few options available to him on the open market, but like Miller, he’s still going to be picking from a pared down pool of suitors. Hiller’s play was once flirting with world class status before a depreciation led him out of Anaheim. While he isn’t the world beater that shutdown the Sharks and frustrated the Red Wings in the mid-2000s, he’s still a very capable goaltender who will get a fair look.
Ilya Bryzgalov: Bryz has been on a carousel the last few seasons and perhaps this summer will allow him to finally get off. He wasn’t spectacular in Edmonton or Minnesota last year, but he found a bit more stability than he had in Philadelphia, which is certainly a major improvement. I doubt that he would be in line to snag a starting job in free agency, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team looking for a quality backup who can handle upwards of 30 games give him a ring.
Justin Peters: Peters has toiled in the Carolina system for what seems like an eternity. He was stuck behind Cam Ward during his better seasons and never found a way to stick in the NHL permanently. Anton Khudobin’s arrival pushed him further down the depth chart and now he finally has a chance to look elsewhere. The thin market will make things tricky, but a team like Philadelphia or even the Lightning, who are looking for a quality backup, could give him a chance for a full year in the NHL.
Martin Brodeur: Retirement seems like the better option for Brodeur at this point as his play has taken a sharp nosedive in recent seasons. He says he wants to backup on a contending team and see somewhere in the 25 games neighborhood. I don’t seem many contenders seeing Brodeur as a viable option to carry that much weight during the year, I wonder what type of interest he gets once free agency opens this afternoon.
Matt Niskanen: The cream of the defensive crop seems to have a very similar feel in terms of playing style. Matt Niskanen appears to be the one player set to get the biggest payday after a very impressive run with the Penguins and talks of a long term, big money deal have been circulating for a few days now. Niskanen is a quality puck mover who will most certainly receive far more money than he’s likely worth, but his play last year justifies the asking price.
Christian Ehrhoff: A late entrant after being bought out on Sunday, Ehrhoff sported one of the league’s better possession metrics despite playing on the league’s worst team. He still has plenty of miles left and can contribute in all situations with big minutes. Don’t be surprised to see him cash in handsomely.
Anton Stralman: In almost the exact same boat as Matt Niskanen, Stralman is likely going to receive a major payday after providing the Rangers with high-quality second pair minutes during their Cup run. Interestingly, his Corsi percentage remained consistent when he was away from Marc Staal while Staal’s percentage plummeted if he was away from Stralman.
Dan Boyle: His age plays a factor here but his skillset is still highly sought after. He’s still a phenomenal puck moving defenseman who will instantly upgrade any powerplay he’s a part of. I’m interested to see what kind of money he gets if a bidding war breaks out for his services. It’s been reported that he’s expecting to get a two-year deal, so if a team is really desperate, they could break the bank on a short term deal to lock up his services.
Brooks Orpik: Every team wants a rugged stay-at-home defender and while Orpik has put on quite a few miles over his career, he’s going to be looked at as a quality asset by a number of teams. Now that he has a Cup ring, I wonder if he is desperately seeking a team on the verge of a championship or if he’s content with cashing in on one more solid contract moving forward.
Paul Stastny: Consider Stastny the consensus crown jewel of this year’s free agent crop. That may be an indictment of the overall class, but shouldn’t be a condemnation of his talents. In fact, playing a complimentary role to such talents as Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon last year probably did more for him than anything else. He’s going to get a healthy payday and provide a team with solid play in a number two center role.
Dave Bolland: Bolland might be the most curious member of this class simply because of his contract demands. He’s a terrific center who can provide quality depth in a second or third line role. I’m not sure he’s worth $5 million, however. I’d expect a team looking to take a step forward would be willing to throw that type of money at him but I think that they’ll ultimately be disappointed in the investment.
Milan Michalek: The exodus out of Ottawa continues as Michalek is set to hit the open market. He’s a consistent goal scorer who would likely thrive playing a complimentary role on a competing team. He still has plenty of miles left on his tires and could almost serve in a similar role to what Marian Gaborik did for the Kings in this year’s playoffs. That might be too specific of a role to find, especially with teams out there looking to snag a first line scorer.
Brad Richards: A buyout casualty, his name hasn’t been overly active since the Rangers exercised their right to terminate his contract. It’s surprising because he has the ability to be a quality contributor for any number of teams. He can still play on the power play and in a top-six role for all 30 teams. If he ends up getting picked up at a discount, I suspect there will be a very happy coach an GM out there.
Thoams Vanek: Vanek, like his former Buffalo teammate Ryan Miller, didn’t do himself too many favors with his play in the postseason. He was phenomenal with the Islanders and carried his play to Montreal to close the regular season. However, he was quiet in the playoffs and could have possibly cost himself a long-term deal. All bets have him heading to Minnesota and I’d suspect that’s where he lines up, even if it’s at a lower rate than originally expected.
Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final as the equipment giant can claim it is getting the most usage in each major gear category at the Final.
The only close category is sticks, which is the only category in which Bauer doesn’t hold over 50% of the usage. Their 42% share still towers over the next closest manufacturer (Easton) who slots in at 17%. It shouldn’t be too surprising to see the stick category as the most diverse in terms of usage as every manufacturer offers a number of similar, elite products. In fact, Bauer’s dominance in the category is based on their three different lines as opposed to one singular product as is seen by the overwhelming number of players wearing Vapor skates.
One other category that isn’t illustrated above is goaltender equipment. With David LeNeveu currently serving as the Ragners’ backup, there is a 50-50 split between Vaughn and Bauer users. If and when Cam Talbot returns, Vaughn will hold the majority (Quick and Jones) with Bauer and Reebok each having one goaltender wearing their equipment.
To further break down the goaltending category, Lundqvist and Talbot each wear Bauer helmets, Jones wears Pro’s Choice and Quick uses Sportmask.
These are always fun graphics to look at just to see the vast diversity of equipment used by each player. Try to figure out who is wearing what over the rest of the series so you can line up individuals with the graphic above.
STX, a long running lacrosse powerhouse, has dove headfirst into the hockey market as they unveiled their two elite level sticks earlier this year. The Stallion 500 and Surgeon 500 sticks are on the shelves now and Matt Moulson has been using the Stallion 500 for most of the 2013-14 season.
Matt Hoppe, Senior Brand Manager at STX, took some time out of his day to answer some questions for us about STX’s foray into hockey, the tech behind their new sticks and what else is coming down the pipe in the coming months. Matt offers some incredible insight into the development process and an awesome inside look at the products STX offers to players.
Great Skate: STX jumped headfirst into the hockey market this year, how long of a process has the company gone through from the first discussions of releasing a hockey line to the release of the Stallion and Surgeon sticks?
Matt Hoppe:STX has been eyeing an entry into the hockey category for the better part of a decade and really cranked up the intensity and internal efforts (R&D build out/internal staffing/etc) over the past 3 years.
Up front it was imperative to us that we committed the time and effort to really understand the wants and needs of hockey athletes. Before we made a step toward putting a pen to paper for designing anything we spent considerable time talking to players to ensure we were bringing to market products that would respect and advance the game.
As we spent more and more time in rinks talking to players we found, even in regions where lacrosse happens to still be an emerging sport, genuine excitement about the prospect of our company bringing a fresh perspective to the game.
GS: STX is probably best known for their lacrosse equipment. Do you have any professional experience with lacrosse or are you strictly a hockey guy?
MH: I am really green when it comes to lacrosse. It wasn’t a sport that was offered at the prep school I attended (Shattuck- St. Mary’s) and it wasn’t really around in Michigan in the late 80’s early 90’s when I was growing up. I really wish it would have been because it’s clear there is a direct connection between the games from a skill set development standpoint. Both games are incredibly fast and demand a really high level of hand eye coordination.
We have a few incredibly skilled lacrosse players in the office and I’ve been badgering them to teach me the game but we haven’t gotten very far in our lessons yet.
GS: Assuming you’ve had the chance to test each of the sticks, which of the two best suits your game?
MH: One of the perks of the job is definitely equipment testing. We skate once a week as a company and I’ve had the luxury of getting to log some serious hours with both sticks. I’m more of a Stallion guy. The constant flex profile is what I’m more used to using.
I tend to swap back and forth between the two (I love the feel of the Surgeon blade) – but given my skill set (or complete lack thereof) no one would ever mistake me for a dangler or an electric playmaker!
GS: One issue that newer companies seem to struggle with is the mental block some players have in using a product that isn’t produced by a big name company. While the tech behind these sticks and STX’s pedigree speaks for itself, have you noticed any sort of trepidation surrounding the release? What would you say differentiates the Stallion and Surgeon from the sticks made by the “big boys”?
MH: There will always be a bit of a barrier to entry with new products from a new company. This is definitely something we are aware of from a consumer standpoint. We know the best way to get someone comfortable with the products is to have them try it first-hand. To that end we’ll be out in the market offering demo days and we’ve worked with our retail partners (like Great Skate) to provide them demo stock for their shooting areas in their stores.
Probably the biggest advantage our sticks have going for them is overall feel and playability. Our sticks have an incredibly high balance point giving them a very good off the rack “feel”). The stick blades have also been specifically tuned to the sticks to give players that extra edge when shooting or receiving passes etc.).
We’ve been making elite level game changing equipment for 40+ years at STX. So while we might be new to hockey we wouldn’t have put our hockey sticks into the market if we didn’t believe in them.
GS: Something that I really like about the line, in addition to the performance benefits, is that the graphics aren’t overdone and the stick isn’t weighed down with extra paint like you see with certain companies. Was there any consideration to dress the sticks up more or was the clear focus to ensure elite performance?
MH: This was a clear choice for a couple of reasons. Luckily we have some really strong brand pillars from our lacrosse and field hockey lines that we were able to bring over to ice hockey (the Surgeon and Stallion product names). So in some respects the color palette, design aesthetics, and player archetypes were already in place.
However, even with that base to work from, I’ve got 30 years in and around the game of hockey and we have several other folks here (for example – Rocco Amonte our NHL rep) who have been around the game even longer and that experience provides a nice base to work from when thinking about providing elite level players what they need.
A LOT of care and thought went into the stick designs. We wanted to balance making them pop on ice, appeal to the up close inspection you often get when kids are picking them up at retail stores, and probably most importantly was ensuring the top down view of the stick wasn’t busy. We know how fast the game moves and any distraction to a player’s peripheral vision can be the difference between making a play and getting run over.
GS: The Power and Precision Flex Profiles are very interesting features for each of the sticks. Could you shed a little more light on the technology that went into each stick and the benefits a player will get from using each?
MH: Absolutely, both sticks benefit from a very high balance point (which naturally extends the taper of the stick). This longer taper allows players to load the stick with less effort.
Speaking specifically about the two sticks The POWER FLEX profile of the Stallion is set up for players who are used to using a constant flex profile stick. The Stallion is going to load with a more traditional feel and will really respond well to players we take a lot of one timers or heavy snap shots etc. This is a stick that is going to give players who like to lean into their shots a little extra boost.
The PRECISION FLEX of the Surgeon line is going to provide players that dual kick point that has become a little more popular over the past few years. With the Surgeon 500 players are going to notice that elongated taper even more as the lower kick point will load incredibly fast when taking quick wristers or making quick passing plays in tight.
GS: Each stick has its own unique blade construction as well. This is a feature that seems to be the next big thing in stick design and STX is out ahead of the pack in pairing blade stiffness to the type of stick you’re buying. What’s the thought process behind this development and what are the benefits?
MH: Balancing the demand for a stick that really has pop with the desire to offer players that elusive wood blade “puck feel” is the most difficult part of stick design.
We know that certain players really want a stick that enhances their shot speed. While other players really value feel and being able to know where that puck is on their stick at all times. That means offering them options – gone are the days where you can just crank out a composite stick, put a graphic on it, and call it a day. Players are far too savvy to accept that. They want finely tuned performance and we believe that our sticks offer players just that. From the blade, to the flex profile, to the balance point we’ve tried to put together two distinct stick lines that provide players options and performance.
GS: With both sticks catering to the elite player, are there any plans to begin developing price point models for the player who may not be looking for the elite performance offered by these two models?
MH: Yes, we have great price point sticks (for both the Surgeon and the Stallion stick lines) that will be available this fall.
GS: I’m not sure if I’m the only one to pick up on this, but it’s slightly ironic to see a player who was selected in the National Lacrosse League draft as the poster boy for your line. Are you able to talk a little bit about the process of bringing Matt Moulson on to use the sticks and how involved he’s been in developing the line?
MH: Matt is obviously a very talented athlete. His NHL success speaks for itself and yes (great catch) he is/was a very talented lacrosse player. He actually is still very interested in lacrosse and is very knowledgeable about the game itself.
Matt was a guy we identified very early on in the process as someone we really wanted to try to partner with. He’s a guy that has, until very recently, flown under the radar. Which for the amount of points he has produced over the past 5 years is astounding.
We approached Matt early in the season and he was aware of our brand right away (from his lacrosse background) and once we determined there was some interest in working together we immediately had him jump into the product development/testing process with us.
I’ll give you a great example of how his insight has translated over to our product development process. In an early stick sample we sent him he was having difficulties with blade torsion when taking one timers. So we went back in and tweaked the stiffness of the hosel on his sticks until we met the feel he was after. This change was something ultimately migrated over to our Stallion sticks line now at retail. His input had a direct impact on our product development – which speaks to the invaluable nature of our partnership with Matt.
GS: Moulson uses the Stallion and I noticed Cody Hodgson with a handful of Stallions when he was cleaning out his locker a few weeks ago. Should we expect to see more NHLers using the Stallion and Surgeon next year?
MH: Yes absolutely. We knew we wanted to spend a year working with Matt and getting the product right and launched into market. You should expect to see us expand our player relationships in the NHL next season.
GS: Based on the NHL players you’ve dealt with to this point have you noticed that the Stallion is the more popular model amongst them? Or has it been a fairly even split?
MH: It has actually been split pretty evenly the Surgeon has been a stick that has gotten rave reviews from players and the Stallion, with its constant flex profile, is one that is very common among NHL’ers.
GS: Speaking of seeing the sticks in the NHL, it’s my understanding that companies need to pay a fee in order for their logos to be shown on equipment used by players. Was there any consideration to not pay the fee to the league or does the exposure garnered outweigh those costs? (I realize that some of these questions may be off limits, so if you’re unable to answer them or provide detailed descriptions I understand)
MH: The NHL does charge a fee to allow companies to put their products on ice. There was never a consideration to not pay the fee. We fully respect and value the exposure the NHL brings to the table from a sports marketing and product visibility perspective. The athletes playing in the NHL are at the pinnacle of the sport – garnering their input and approval is something we know is a must for long term success.
GS: Should we expect to see STX gloves gracing the hands ofNHLers next year? If yes, can you drop any hints as to what we might expect?
MH: Matt Moulson is actually wearing our new Stallion glove now. He started wearing it in the last few weeks of the regular season. It was incredible for us to deliver him a glove a few games before the playoffs started and watch him swap right into it without missing a beat.
STX has a long history of designing and developing gloves and protective – so we are very confident what we are working on it going to really impress the broader hockey community.
Looking forward you can expect to see gloves and protective equipment that offer players enhanced mobility, targeted protection, and the usage of materials not super common to the game.
Being new to ice hockey we have the ability to pave our way into the sport in whatever manner we see best. That means you’ll see us doing some things over the next 12-24 months which might feel a bit different (and we view that as a good thing) but first and foremost you’ll always see us respecting the game and only providing products that we believe give players a measurable performance advantage on the ice.
The Surgeon 500 and Stallion 500 sticks are just the tip of iceberg. We have a lot of really amazing, and in some cases game changing, products we are putting the final touches on. It is going to be an exciting 12 months in the hockey department here at STX!
Picking OT goal scorers has become one of the best games to play amongst friends in recent years. The prevalence of the practice has expanded to countless online contests, many of which are run through Twitter.
Now you have the opportunity to win a $10 e-gift card to Great Skate by participating in our own OT Challenge.
The Great Skate OT Challenge will run for the rest of the playoffs and will be done exclusively via the Great Skate Twitter account @greatskate. The rules are simple and not unlike many other OT guessing games out there.
First, you must follow the Great Skate Twitter account and be sure to retweet the game instructions that were sent out yesterday. Second, make your picks by tagging them with #GreatSkateOTChallenge. You should pick one player per team. If you guess the right play you’ll be entered into a drawing to win the $10 gift card.
It’s the stick that started it all. The Easton Synergy revolutionized the game both on and off the ice when it was first introduced and now the legendary name is coming back as Easton is prepared to launch the new Synergy HTX line this summer.
Last seen in the form of the ST 16, the Synergy returns to the ice with new technology designed to create a more responsive blade that creates more velocity off the toe. Easton refers to this technology as Hypertuned and Hypertoe.
The Hypertuned technology sees Easton specifically match stiffer blades to stiffer stick flexes to ensure that the blade responds properly to the type of player that uses each flex. For a player that prefers a stiff stick, the blade’s stiffness will match giving that player a stick with a uniform feel from the flex down to the blade. The same goes for softer flex sticks being paired with softer blades. This differs greatly from sticks of the past which uses a uniform blade construction that offered a different response with each type of flex profile.
In addition, the blade itself has gone under a makeover as Easton’s Hypertoe technology introduces a tapered ribbing to the blade that’s designed to add velocity as the puck comes off on a pass or shot. The blades are easier to load up thanks to the dual lies that Easton utilizes, making the new Hypertoe a benefit to anyone using the stick.
The ultimate goal with the Hypertoe isn’t just to add velocity but to make it easier to load the blade to shoot in a combination that serves to increase your shot without any additional effort. It’s a trait that’s been introduced on a few of Easton’s recent products but it should add even more on the HTX as the Hypertune technology ensures a more uniform feel throughout.
The HTX has been popping up here and there around the NHL this season and will officially be on the shelves in June.
A well known powerhouse in the lacrosse world, STX has jumped head first into ice hockey this year as their new stick line has hit the shelves.
STX wasted little time getting their name onto people’s tongues in hockey circles as Matt Moulson was sporting an STX Prototype stick for a good portion of the season. With the release of the Stallion 500 and Surgeon 500 now official, Moulson graduated to production model of the Stallion since his arrival in Minnesota.
Geared towards elite level players, the Surgeon and the Stallion share a number of visual similarities to the Easton Stealth and Mako sticks. The Stallion looks like a near replica of the Stealth RS stick while the Surgeon’s graphics package is very similar to that of the Mako.
The Stallion’s focus in on power transfer and balance in order to allow players to maximize the power they can get behind each shot. STX has implemented a high balance point to keep the stick from feeling blade heavy while limiting the affect that change has on the flex profile. In addition to moving the balance point up the shaft, STX also built the Stallion with what they call the Power Flex Shot Profile; a constant flex profile designed to increase the load you can place on the stick while shooting.
While the Stallion is referred to as the power tool, the Surgeon is more of a precision device. The Stallion and Surgeon share a very similar relationship to that of the TotalOne and APX. While the Stallion’s uniform flex profile promotes power and strength, the Surgeon is built with a dual flex profile to complement a quick release while also allowing for a player to load up the stick for a powerful shot.
This Precision Flex Shot Profile also features a high balance point but gives a little more feel for those players seeking a quick release for their shots. The Surgeon’s blade is softer than that of the Stallion for enhanced puck control and feel.
Both sticks utilize a grip finish that is lighter and has more of a matte finish than most other sticks on the market. This ensures that they’re not cumbersome with weight which has been a downfall of many sticks that have come out as a challenge to the traditional powers in recent years.
There are also expectations that STX will be releasing a glove in the near future and while there has been no concrete news or sightings during gameplay, it will be interesting to see what type of technology STX pulls from considering their lacrosse background.
There are 60 teams across the three leagues that make up the CHL. There are 16 more teams that make up the USHL and between the two leagues, they span across Canada and into 13 American states. Depending on where you live, you’re probably a lot closer to a major junior team than you think.
From Great Skate’s driveway you could make it to St. Catharines to see the Ice Dogs in 30 minutes or less. The Erie Otters are just about 90 minutes door-to-door while many of the OHL’s other clubs aren’t much further away.
I was able to make three separate road trips to see junior hockey played this season, making two trips to Erie and another to St. Catharines.
The trip to see the Ice Dogs was particularly interesting as Niagara was playing their final season at Jack Gatecliff arena, which was originally built in 1938. The Ice Dogs will be moving to a new, state-of-the-art arena for the 2014-15 season and having the opportunity to see one of junior hockey’s last great barns was a special treat.
The intrigue of seeing a game played at the junior level is multifaceted. Young players, competing not only for their team’s success but their own futures adds to the narrative on a nightly basis. Each team has at least one established draft prospect who is often playing at another level as compared to his teammates and opponents. The fans a passionate and informed and the atmosphere is different than many professional games you may have seen.
Jack Gatecliff Arena has a small ice surface with no more than 10 rows of seating in the stands. Standing room fans pack in the tiny concourses and the low rafters and press box overhangs add to the intimate atmosphere. Only a handful of these smaller, “old school” buildings are left as more and more teams are moving into shiny, modern buildings with better amenities and a more professional set up.
If you’re looking to track down some of the older, more intimate arenas that are left, Stadium Journey has documented the homes of all 20 teams with full reviews of each building.
The trip to St. Catharines was mainly motivated by the chance to see hockey in a building that had maintained for so long. It was also motivated by the fact that the Ice Dogs are the closest franchise to Buffalo and if there was any team I’d latch onto each season, their proximity would play a major role.
My two trips to Erie were similarly motivated (proximity) but the Otters boast another highly marketable feature in the form of a 17 year-old phenom named Connor McDavid.
As many hockey fans are already aware, McDavid is expected to be the crown jewel of next year’s NHL Entry Draft and he’s already dazzled in his first two years of junior hockey. Seats are increasingly hard to come by in Erie as the local fanbase is augmented by visitors from cities like Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and more coming to see McDavid play. He’s worth the price of admission.
My first jaunt to the Erie Insurance Arena resulted in having to buy standing room only tickets for $17 each. The arena’s procedure for standing room landed us about seven rows behind the bench on the blueline, not a bad deal.
Instead of missing out on a seat the second time down, our group used the box office to buy tickets ahead of time in the section of our choice. We pad $16 to sit on the glass. Even without McDavid, the level of play far surpasses the price to get in the door at any arena, let along Erie.
What’s even better is that these trips are a piece of cake to plan. Many teams run cool promotional giveaways – we happened to be too late for the McDavid player posters they were giving away – and the tickets aren’t hard to come by if you buy them ahead of time. Another fun fact regarding those promotions, the player or players featured often sign autographs after the game to add to the unique souvenir.
You’re not going to be disappointed with your choice of a junior hockey road trip. The atmosphere is different than that of an NHL game, there’s rarely a bad seat in the house as the arenas are all right-sized for the crowd and the level of play is high. Maybe put together one or two for next season and grow from there.