Living with the Lockout — Northwest Division

The players are already playing games in Europe. The preseason through Sept. 30 has been canceled. This is what a lockout feels like. 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, Living with the Lockout Part V, featuring the two American teams in the Northwest Division

Colorado Avalanche

The Avs are coming off another dismal season, but  a young core of quality players leaves optimism for the future. Colorado recently named teenager Gabriel Landeskog its team captain. The youngest captain in NHL history has a great surrounding cast as well with Matt Duchene, Erik Johnson, Paul Stastny, Ryan O’Reilly and more. While Colorado has been running in place a bit over the last few years, the young core of the team has the potential to push the Avs forward in the near future. With the lockout delaying that positive momentum, Avalanche fans have no shortage of local options to experience their favorite game.

Denver Cutthroats (CHL) – Pro hockey has come back to the 60-year-old Denver Coliseum in the form of the Central Hockey League’s newest franchise. The Denver Cutthroats, which will be a single A affiliate for the Avalanche and its AHL franchise in Cleveland, are about to kick off their inaugural season. The CHL has been around for a long time, but teams come and go so often, the league is in a constant state of transition. The fresh blood in the form of the Cutthroats will be welcome for a league that has seen franchise move or fold with stunning regularity. Denver is led by former Denver Grizzlies (IHL) player Derek Armstrong and has already signed up several players with local ties for the 2012-13 season. The CHL is a still very fun league to watch with a good mix of skill players and pugilists. The prices are more than reasonable and the fun is undeniable. The Cutthroats could be big time lockout beneficiaries.
Must See Game: Missouri Mavericks at Denver, Oct. 19, 7:05 p.m. – There are few games that can match a franchise’s first home opener. With no NHL to compete with and the curiosity a new team can bring in, fans should come out in bunches to support the fledgling Cutthroats. The building should have an optimistic energy and should provide fans that good first taste that will bring them back in the future.

Colorado Eagles (ECHL) — One of the premier minor league teams in all of hockey, the Eagles have enjoyed a sellout streak of 347 consecutive games. The Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo., only holds 5,289 spectators, but how fun would it be to be among a packed house every single night? No matter the size of the building, a full house adds so much energy to a game that it’s almost impossible not to have a good time, assuming you’re cheering for the home team. The Eagles made the move to the ECHL from the CHL just last year and fans just kept on coming. Playing in the premier “AA” minor league for hockey, the skill-level remains high and the atmosphere will rival anything else you’ve experienced. The Cutthroats might cut into some business, but expect the Eagles to continue bringing fans in in droves.
Must See Game: Florida Everblades at Colorado, Nov. 23, 7:05 p.m. – The Eagles will welcome the defending Kelly Cup champions to Loveland, which should be a good early-season test.. Plus, you never know when an Eagles coach might suddenly get the urge to put on a show…

DU and CC play for the Gold Pan annually.

DU vs. CC vs. USAFA – With a pair of college teams in nearby Colorado Springs and the University of Denver right there, there’s never a shortage of good hockey options within a short drive on any given weekend. The three Division I teams, DU, Colorado College and the U.S. Air Force Academy often play distinctly different styles, but offer the same amount of enjoyment. CC and Air Force will meet at the Academy’s rink, which is bit of a stagnant building, but rests on that beautiful campus (if you’ve never been, get there early and walk around for a bit, you won’t be sorry). Denver and CC, for the last year as WCHA combatants will meet four times over the course of the season and have one of the great rivalries in college hockey, playing annually for the Gold Pan trophy. Denver’s Magness Arena is a terrific college hockey arena, while CC’s World Arena offers a fun atmosphere and always packed crowds.
Must See GamesColorado College at Air Force, Oct. 19, 7 p.m. – USAFA is defending Atlantic Hockey champion and had an impressive showing against eventual national champion Boston College at the NCAA Tournament. CC is coming off a year in which it fell a bit short despite some terrific offensive weapons. Both squads will be geared up for an early-season tilt in a game that always seems to go down to the wire. The Falcons are always going to put in a workmanlike effort, while CC will look to establish the game’s pace with some solid skill players.
Denver at Colorado College, Nov. 16, 7:37 p.m. // Colorado College at Denver, Nov. 16, 7:07 p.m.–  The first home-and-home series between these two rivals should be a dandy as the energy level is always high. Both squads suffered some high-profile losses in the off-season with CC losing Jaden Schwartz to the St. Louis Blues, while Denver lost a good chunk of its scoring offense in Drew Shore and Jason Zucker, who both signed NHL contracts. Even with the loss of star power, this game always packs a punch.
Must See Players: Rylan Schwartz — Colorado College — The senior forward will be without younger brother Jaden, but has shown a propensity to put up points in bunches on his own. He has already eclipsed the 100-point mark in his career and has some serious skill to create. Schwartz can be awfully fun to watch.
Joey LaLeggia — University of Denver — LaLeggia was sensational in his freshman season at Denver. Putting up 38 points from the blue line in 43 games is almost unheard of for a first-year Dman. His high-end offensive abilities landed him a selection from the Edmonton Oilers in his final year of draft eligibility in June. With a lot of its forward scoring gone, LaLeggia could be depended on for offensive help a lot more.

Perhaps you’ve been meaning to try hockey or just feel like going for a skate? Here’s a complete listing of rinks in the state of Colorado.

Minnesota Wild

Zach Parise. Ryan Suter. More than enough to be excited about for Wild fans coming into this season. Combined with the first NHL season of anticipated draftee Mikael Granlund, has there ever been more excitement for the Wild since the NHL came back to Minnesota? This lockout has to be tough, but here’s the thing about Minnesotan:. They like this hockey thing… a lot. I probably don’t have to do this section for them, but for the sake of uniformity, I will. There’s a lot of exciting hockey distractions that will ease the pain of the delay of seeing Parise and Suter in Wild jerseys on the ice.

College Hockey — Men’s hockey, women’s hockey, Division III hockey. Everywhere you turn, there is an option. There’s men’s Division I programs at Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State Mankato and Bemidji State. Women’s teams at all of those schools as well. Every weekend at a rink near you for the next seven months, essentially, there will be college hockey. In men’s Division I hockey, this season has extra meaning as sweeping realignment and new conferences will put an end to many strong conference rivalries and the once-proud WCHA as we know it. It’s going to be a good time to get to the school rinks to enjoy the final season of college hockey as we know it today.
Must See Game: Wisconsin at Minnesota, Nov. 24, 8 p.m. – These guys will both be headed to the Big Ten, but the Border Battle is always a treat for fans. A good rivalry between a pair of teams that should have really solid seasons. The Gophers could be one of the best teams in college hockey if its goaltending is decent. The Badgers hope to bounce back from a rough 2011-12. It’s going to be passionate hockey in this arena. There are a ton of other great games, but a lot of them come later in the year, when the NHL is hopefully back. Be sure to check out the schedules for UMD, SCSU, BSU and Mankato to plan your hockey trips.
Must See PlayerNick Bjugstad — Minnesota — One of the best players in college hockey last season, Bjugstad turned down the chance to sign with the team that selected him 19th overall in 2010. He decided to spurn Florida and stick around for his Junior year, which is almost assuredly his final season in college hockey. The big forward put up 25 goals as a sophomore and looks to have a lot left in his tank. He’s a likely Hobey Baker candidate and when he’s at his best is a lot of fun to watch dominate.

High School Hockey — You guys already know this. This doesn’t need explanation, but bloggers gotta blog. There is an aura of tradition and regional pride that high school hockey invokes in Minnesota. It is like football in Texas. It’s religion. There aren’t as many elite players that stay close to home for all four years of high school anymore, but it doesn’t make the games any less fun. There’s the same passion and the same speed and excitement. Last season was marked by the equal parts tragic and inspiring story of Jack Jablonski and his Benilde-St. Margaret’s team that went all the way to win the state championship after the sophomore suffered a severe spinal injury. Another season brings new excitement and new memories. It all starts in November. To bide your time until then, many of the state’s best players will be playing in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League, which is definitely worth checking out, unless you value your eyes.
Must See Game: Hill-Murray at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Dec. 8, 7 p.m., St. Louis Park Rec Center – In a rematch of last year’s state championship game, the Red Knights of Benilde welcome the revenge-minded Pioneers of Hill-Murray. Benilde has lost many of its players from that game, but not the guy who scored all five of his team goals, including three shorthanded, to go down in State Tournament history — Wisconsin recruit Grant Besse.

Junior Hockey – While the high school and colleges garner the most eyeballs, it’s important not to forget that Minnesota has a very rich Junior hockey system. There is the Minnesota Junior Hockey League with Junior B teams in Maple Grove, Bloomington, Owatonna, Rochester and Edina. There’s also the Austin Bruins in southern Minnesota, playing out of the North American Hockey League, the nation’s only Tier II Junior A league. With easily-affordable options like these nearby, there’s no shortage of good quality hockey to check out. Even if the junior ranks might fall third on your priority list, use some of that extra money you’re not spending on the Wild to spend some on these fine organizations who are trying to help players achieve their hockey goals.
Must See Game: Bismarck Bobcats at Austin Bruins, Oct. 13, 7:05 p.m., Riverside Arena – The Bruins will have revenge on the brain as the Bismarck Bobcats come to Riverside Arena for an early-season divisional game. The Bobcats knocked out Austin in the NAHL Playoffs last season and have been the class of the Central Division for the last few years. This is also the first of three straight games between the two rivals. It should be a great match up to give you a taste of what NAHL hockey is all about.

If you’re in Minnesota, you can probably skate right? Is that a stereotype? Either way, here’s a complete listing of rinks in Minnesota, but you can probably find a nice frozen pond in a few months or hit up your neighbor’s backyard rink. It’s not a stereotype if it’s true, you guys.

I only had three options for each team, but maybe I missed a local favorite of yours. Feel free to let me and everyone else know in the comments.

Coming up Next: The Living with the Lockout Finale featuring The Pacific Division

Previously on Living with the Lockout

Atlantic
Northeast
Southeast
Central

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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