With the Sept. 15 lockout deadline looming, optimism is shrinking that a deal will be done between the NHL and NHLPA in its collective bargaining negotiations. It appears there will be a void to fill, at least until November, maybe December, hopefully not all year.
No one is going to be happy about the lockout, but there are ways to live with it. Hockey has grown significantly in the United States, and along with it, so have the outlets from which fans can get their regular dose of this game. While there isn’t a single one of them that can replace the NHL, they’re at least effective in providing that fix.
Just because the NHL owners are locking out the players, it doesn’t mean they have to lock you out from the sport you love. Protests are all well and good, but they probably won’t solve anything. The best thing you can do in the lockout is serve yourself a heaping dose of ice hockey.
To help you out, United States of Hockey presents the “Living With the Lockout” series. Going through each division, we’ll provide every fan base of the American NHL teams three nearby options to fill the void. Some are well known, others are well off the beaten path, but that’s the beauty of hockey in the U.S. There’s a lot of it. Even if the NHL comes back sooner than later, you owe it to yourself to experience as much of the great hockey in this country as you can.
Coming up after the jump, Part I: The Atlantic Division
The only thing worse than a Stanley Cup Final hangover is one that can’t be cured by the hair of the dog, with that dog being locked out. There’s probably a lot of downtrodden red-and-black-clad New Jerseyans, coming out of the disappointing Final, the loss of fan-favorite and All-American boy Zach Parise and the team’s financial struggles always a top story. Here are a few ways to take your mind off what was.
Princeton University — It may not look like it anymore, but Princeton is kind of like American hockey royalty. As the school of one of the greatest American athletes to ever live, Hobey Baker, there is a tradition at Princeton few schools can match. While the team has struggled in the standings for some time now, anyone who walks into Hobey Baker Rink, built in 1921, will get the sense of just how far the game has come since the infancy of college hockey. Princeton hockey alumni incude NHLers Jeff Halpern, George Parros, Kevin Westgarth and Darrell Powe. While the rink is known to be a little quieter than most, the historic surroundings make it worth the trip.
Must See Game: Cornell at Princeton, Nov. 9 — The Tigers will open with a pair of exhibition games at home, but will meet Cornell in what should be an exciting ECAC match up at Baker Rink. Cornell is expected to have a big year coming off an NCAA tournament appearance, so the Tigers have an early test.
Jersey Hitmen — This Tier III Junior A hockey club has been one of the most successful franchises in the Eastern Junior Hockey League. With many of its players going on to college scholarships and higher levels of Junior hockey, the Hitmen have become one of the must-see attractions for scouts and fans alike in the EJHL. Playing out of the Capitol One Bank Ice Vault in Wayne, N.J., it’s an easy trek from the Newark area.
Must See Game: New Hampshire Junior Monarchs at Jersey Hitmen, Sept. 23, 12:01 p.m. — In an early-season rematch of last year’s EJHL championship series, the Hitmen will be looking to exact a little revenge. The Monarchs defeated the regular-season champions in two games in the EJHL Final. Nothing like a little bad blood to start the season.
Delbarton School — New Jersey high school hockey has come a long, long way in recent years. Delbarton alum Kenny Agostino can attest to that after he was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins 140th overall after an 83-point senior campaign with the Delbarton Green Wave. He’s now tearing it up at Yale University. This one you’ll have to wait a little while for, as the New Jersey high school season doesn’t kick off until December. The Green Wave plays out of the Aspen Ice Center in Randolph, N.J.
Must See Game: Delbarton at Christian Brothers Academy, Dec. 5, 5 p.m. — A rematch of the New Jersey Non-Public State Championship, these pair of private school foes meet again early in the season. These two really have become the titans of New Jersey high school hockey. You can see highlights of that state championship game here.
Maybe you feel like trying hockey yourself or maybe you always wanted to learn how to skate? Here’s a list of all the ice rinks in New Jersey.
Though consumed by arena concerns and another playoff-less season on Long Island, there is optimism among the Islander faithful. With rising stars John Tavares and Matt Moulson, there’s plenty to look forward to, which is what makes a delayed NHL season all the more frustrating. Even though there’s bound to be disappointment over the lockout, Long Islanders don’t even have to leave home for some solid hockey.
Long Island Sled Hockey – Maybe you’ll miss the NHL, but if you get one glimpse of sled hockey you’ll be hooked by the speed and inspired by the athletes. Sled hockey isn’t all that different from stand up hockey at the end of the day, which makes it all the more fun to watch. With players of varying degrees of skill, it’s fun to watch these groups develop. Whether you catch a game or a practice at the Town of Oyster Bay Ice Skating Center, you’ll fall hard for sled hockey. For more information, and to donate to this non-profit, check out Long Island Sled Hockey’s site.
Must See Game: TBD
Long Island Royals — Coming off a season in which they fell one goal short of a USA Hockey Tier III national championship, the Royals will look to brighter days ahead. Competing in the Junior B Metropolitan Junior Hockey League, which boasts alumni such as Mike Richter, Joey and Brian Mullen and Mike Komisarek, players on the Royals are seeking college opportunities or looking to rise up the Junior ranks to leagues like the NAHL or USHL. The Royals staff includes former NHLers Benoit Hogue and Valeri Zelepukin.
Must See Game: New Jersey Rockets at Long Island Royals, Sept. 30, 1:30 p.m., Dix Hills Ice Arena — The Royals will welcome one of the top talent producers in the MJHL. The Rockets programs has graduated several players to Division I scholarships and Junior A destinations, while the Royals are coming off that national runner-up season.
Bridgeport Sound Tigers — It’s a bit of a trek, but if you’re an Islanders fan, it probably wouldn’t hurt to get a look at what’s coming down the pipeline at AHL affiliate Bridgeport. The AHL might be a step below the NHL, but it’s still probably the second best league in the world (sorry, KHL) and will be made better by the lockout, as many young NHL prospects are going to be getting a lot of ice time in the AHL most likely. Birdgeport should be one of the better teams to get a look at as the Islanders have built nice depth in their prospect pipeline.
Must See Game: Connecticut Whale at Bridgeport, Nov. 11, 3 p.m. – Nothing like a little Sunday matinee hockey. Not only is the Whale the New York Rangers’ affiliate, it’s also both a divisional and natural rival. It’s a long season in the AHL, so a rivalry game to whet the appetite early in the year is never a bad thing.
Must See Player: Brock Nelson — Bridgeport — Coming off a stellar sophomore campaign at the University of North Dakota, the Islanders 2010 first-rounder signed with the big club and got a quick taste of AHL hockey at the end of last season. Even if there was a season starting on time, he probably wouldn’t have immediately made the Islander roster. This guy probably won’t be in Bridgeport terribly long, so you’ll want to make sure to get a good look at this high-end prospect.
For a list of ice arenas in New York, click here.
A deep playoff run and the big-time trade to acquire Rick Nash is enough to give Blueshirt Nation a lockout-induced seizure. The optimism for the club is as high as ever, especially with top-end youngsters like Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider and Ryan McDonagh on the cusp of stardom to go along with already superstars like Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist. The anticipation must be killing them. Here are a few ideas to help take the edge off.
Cornell vs. Michigan at MSG — We don’t know how long the lockout will last, but no matter what happens, there will be hockey at Madison Square Garden at least one day this fall. The Cornell Big Red will meet the Michigan Wolverines for The Frozen Apple on Nov. 24. As luck would have it, it’s also a rematch from last year’s NCAA Tournament Regional, where Cornell stunned Michigan 3-2 in overtime to advance to the regional final. It was easily one of the most entertaining games of the tournament and this tilt should be no different. Both teams feature a bevy of pro prospects and each should challenge for a spot in the NCAA Tournament once again. You’ll want to get on this soon if you want to see it, all three previous college games at Madison Square Garden have sold out.
Game Info: Michigan vs. Cornell, Nov. 24, 8 p.m.
Must See Player: Jacob Trouba — Michigan — The ninth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Trouba is the nation’s top recruit. The big defenseman was picked by the Winnipeg Jets, but that doesn’t mean the NYC faithful won’t appreciate his game. He’s got a good mix of toughness and skill and this will be a good opportunity to see him on an NHL sheet before he’s there playing against the beloved Rangers someday.
FDNY/NYPD Hockey — The New York City Fire Department and Police Department each have hockey teams. In addition to providing a competitive outlet for the firefighters and policemen, these two groups also do a ton of charity work. The schedule for next season is not set, but be sure to keep your eyes peeled for their events. The two won’t square off until the annual Police-Fire game in April (which takes place at Nassau Colliseum). FDNY has won the inter-public services tilt the last four years. For more information, check out http://www.fdnyhockey.com/about.htm
Must See Game: TBD
Yale University hockey — If that one taste of college hockey at MSG wasn’t enough, one of the closest Division I schools to New York City is Yale. Just a two-hour jaunt to see some real quality college hockey isn’t so bad. The Bulldogs men’s squad, under the direction of Keith Allain, have been a consistent top team in the ECAC, and features plenty of NHL prospects. The women’s team hasn’t been very good statistically, but have been All-American off the ice. Inspired by former player Mandi Schwartz, who lost her battle with cancer in 2011, in concert with the Yale Athletics Department, the women’s team has helped save lives with a bone-marrow donor registration drives. Additionally, the trip to New Haven is worth it just for Ingalls Rink. A marvel of architecture designed by Eero Saarinen, taking a whale-like shape from the exterior and providing great views on the inside, it’s one of the most unique buildings in all of sport. Qunnipiac University is also a close drive if you’re looking for some good college hockey action.
Must See Game: Union College at Yale, Dec. 8, 8 p.m. – Normally this slot would be occupied by Harvard, but Yale won’t meet the Crimson until January (when the NHL is likely to be back, but if you get the chance, GO! Jan. 18 at Ingalls). Union made it all the way to the Frozen Four last year and returns key players like Hobey Baker candidate Troy Grosenick and Flyers draft pick Shayne Gostisbehere. It should be a heated match-up between a pair of the ECAC’s heavy hitters.
For a list of rinks in New York, click here.
Though a disappointing season, the Flyers boast one of the league’s best forwards in Claude Giroux and despite some swings and misses in free agency, Philly could be an exciting team to watch next year (assuming there is a next year). While the Flyers won’t be around, Philadelphia is perfectly situated geographically to hit a wide variety of other terrific hockey options.
Delaware and Drexel Hockey — Philadelphia has two of the best college club teams in the country nearby in the University of Delaware and Drexel University. Both members of the American Collegiate Hockey Association, which is for college club or non-varsity teams, each made ACHA national tournament appearances last year. In fact, Delaware is the defending ACHA Division I national champion. The Blue Hens even beat Penn State, which featured several players that will be part of the Nittany Lions’ first NCAA Division I season, last year. With an on-campus arena, Delaware has all the atmosphere of college hockey, without the high prices of the NCAA. Drexel got a taste of the Winter Classic last year, playing Villanova’s club team at Citzen’s Bank Park. These are two teams certainly worth following.
Must See Game: Delaware at Drexel, Dec. 6, 9 p.m., Class of 1923 Arena – With the Class of 1923 rink on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus as the setting, these two natural rivals will square off in their first meeting of the season.
Must See Player: S.J. Broadt — Delaware – Named the ACHA National Championship MVP, the Blue Hens’ netminder played the entire tournament on a broken foot. According to ACHA’s stats, he had a 2.03 goals-against average and .930 save percentage last season. And, in case you didn’t read that the first time, he was an MVP on a broken foot. Hockey player’s hockey player, I guess.
Trenton Titans (ECHL) — There’s something somewhat quaint about ECHL hockey. Smaller towns, smaller stadiums, cheaper beer. When it comes to atmosphere, there’s nothing really quaint about it. There are few more events as entertaining to both hardcore and casual hockey fans alike than a minor league game. The ECHL has players that still have something to prove out there, many of whom still have NHL aspirations, so there’s no question the quality is up there. Trenton averaged more than 3,000 fans a game last year, which is pretty solid. Additionally the Titans are linked up with the Flyers, so it’s a good way to keep tabs on some Flyers prospects that get left out of the AHL picture.
Must See Game: Reading Royals at Trenton, Nov. 9, 7:05 p.m. – It will be the fifth overall meeting between the two clubs in the early ECHL season and the third time they match up in one week. If there’s anything about games like that in close proximity, expect tempers to flare a little bit.
Neumann College – If a short drive is what you’re looking for out of Philly, nearby Neumann College has an NCAA Division III hockey team that’s worth checking out. Finishing the 2011-12 season ranked 15th in the country, Neumann will return 19 players including captains Sean Crozier and Harley Garrioch. Neumann got some great exposure last year, playing Penn State at Citzen’s Bank Park as part of Winter Classic festivities. The Knights are also just three years removed from a DIII national title and Neumann has established itself as one of the top programs in the country. The Knights play out of Ice Works arena in Aston, Pa.
Must See Game: Utica College at Neumann, Nov. 9, 7 p.m. – After bouncing Utica in the first round of the ECAC West playoffs last year, Neumann will welcome the Pioneers for its home opener. Every game counts in college hockey with the short season, so this should be a great first home tilt for the Knights.
For a list of ice arenas in Pennsylvania, click here.
Excitement seems to always be high for the Penguins organization, but this delayed season is sure to be agonizing to the Pens faithful. With Evgeni Malkin coming off an MVP season and Sidney Crosby hopefully back to 100 percent, the Pens are sure to be one of the more exciting teams to watch in hockey, as usual. Not only that, but Western Pennsylvania hockey has been booming on the heels of the Penguins’ success, which lucky for NHL fans means a plethora of other opportunities to get a hockey fix.
Robert Morris Colonials – In nearby Moon Township, Robert Morris has been building a respectable Division I hockey program. Coming off back-to-back above-.500 seasons, the Colonials are gaining a foothold in Division I conference Atlantic Hockey. The team returns leading goal-scorer Adam Brace and Cody Wydo, who impressed in his freshman campaign last year. With a tough non-conference schedule, Robert Morris will look to turn heads this year. The Colonials will get high exposure in late December as part of the Pittsburgh College Hockey Invitational, which will take place at the home of the Penguins, the Consol Energy Center. The event will include RMU, Penn State, Miami University and Ohio State. Should be a fantastic event, so you might want to get primed up for that by seeing RMU in action sooner than letter. The Colonials play at the RMU Island Sports Center
Must See Game: Air Force at RMU, Oct. 27, 7:05 p.m. – The Colonials will welcome defending Atlantic Hockey champion Air Force for a single-game set. This will be a great early-season test for the Colonials, looking to improve on its 17-17-5 record from last year. With such a tough opponent to start, it should be a thrilling contest.
Must See Player: Cody Wydo — RMU — The soon-to-be sophomore forward finished second on the team with 13 goals, a respectable total for a rookie. He was the NAHL’s leading goal scorer two years ago, so there’s reason to believe those 13 goals are only the beginning for this Wyandotte, Mich., native.
Youngstown Phantoms (USHL) — One of the surprise teams from last season, it looks like the Phantoms are finally starting to find their way in the only Tier I junior A league in the U.S. After a 32-21-7 season and first playoff series win in the USHL, this is a team that is on the up and up, especially under young head coach Anthony Noreen, who piloted the turnaround last year. With All-Rookie selection Austin Cangelosi returning among others, it should be another exciting year. The Phantoms play at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown.
Must See Game: Waterloo Black Hawks at Youngstown, Oct. 28, 4 p.m. – The Phantoms will welcome Waterloo, which boasts two top prospects for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft in USHL Rookie of the Year Taylor Cammarata and big defenseman Ian McCoshen. The Hawks recently returned from the World Junior Club Cup, where they finished second. This should be a great game to show you what USHL hockey is all about.
Must See Player: Austin Cangelosi — Youngstown — The Boston College-bound Cangelosi should be one of the most exciting talents in the USHL in his second season. To show just how exciting… Exhibit A:
Pittsburgh Penguins Elite — Formerly known as the Pittsburgh Hornets, this youth hockey organization has produced several of the top players to come out of the Pittsburgh area in recent years. NHL prospects J.T. Miller (1st-rounder for NYR), John Gibson (2nd-rounder for ANA) and Brandon Saad (2nd-rounder for CHI) are among the alumni for this program. Now teamed up with the Pittsburgh Penguins, this new developmental outlet will hope to churn out even more future stars. These games are typically open to the public at no charge, so if you can find the Midget AAA (18 & Under) teams playing, you should stick around and watch. For more information on this group: http://pittsburghpenguinselite.pointstreaksites.com/view/pittsburghpenguinselite/home-page
Must See Game: TBD
For a list of rinks throughout Pennsylvania, click here.
If you’re from these areas and have a favorite hockey outlet that I missed, leave it the comments to help out your hockey-loving neighbors.
Coming up next: The Northeast Division