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 II: The U.S.-based teams in the Northeast Division
Only a year removed from winning the Stanley Cup, the Bruins are coming off a disappointing early exit from the playoffs. Additionally, lightning-rod goaltender Tim Thomas said he’d take this year off (though the rest of the league may be joining him soon). Despite that, the Bruins have an exciting team with pleny of youth led by Tyler Seguin and a solid prospect pipeline. The good people of Boston are luckier than most of the country, with a plethora of other options to experience high-quality hockey without draining the gas tank.
Cawlidge Hawkey — The Boston-area has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to college hockey. There’s of course the powerhouse programs of Boston College and Boston University, each having won national titles within the last five years, with BC earning three of the last five. Then there’s an on-the-rise Harvard program, an exciting young group at Northeastern, UMass-Lowell coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance, and recent Hockey East power Merrimack. If you don’t mind the drive, then you can head out to Amherst for a look at UMass under new head coach John Michelletto. That’s a lot of options nearby. All should be intriguing teams to follow in this final season before college hockey’s sweeping realignment.
Must See Game: Boston College at Boston University, Nov. 11, 5 p.m., Agganis Arena — This heated rivalry is always a must-see. If you live in Boston and haven’t seen a BC-BU tilt, well, are you really a hockey fan? BC is coming off a national championship, but has lost key pieces like Chris Kreider, Brian Dumoulin and
Parker Milner. Both schools have top-10 recruiting classes, with BC boasting Florida Panthers first-round pick Michael Matheson as a top freshman. BU is coming off a season racked with controversy and legal troubles and has lost some key players of its own like Adam Clendening and Alex Chiasson. These two new-look teams should still bring a lot of excitement to Agganis Arena in the season’s first meeting between the two.
Must See Players:
Kevin Roy — Northeastern — One of the nation’s top incoming freshmen recently made his intentions known that he was de-committing from Brown to go to Northeastern. Roy became the first USHL player to eclipse the 50-goal mark in nearly 20 years. He’s a dazzling offensive talent, who should be able to make an early impact for the Huskies.
Johnny Gaudreau — Boston College — The Flames draft pick is coming off a freshman season in which he averaged a point per game. A wizard with the puck, Gaudreau scored this dazzling goal that put away the national championship game for BC:
Malden Catholic High School — Up and down the Northeast and New England, there is a plethora of quality prep school and high school hockey. However, Malden Catholic, just a short jaunt from the heart of Boston, has become one of the stand out high school programs and has a terrific tradition to boot. The alma mater of NHL great Keith Tkachuk, Malden has been churning out plenty of great players in recent years including Brendan Collier, who was selected 143rd overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2012 Draft. Malden lost just one game in 2011-12, but will be without its best players from that campaign next year in Collier and Ryan Fitzgerald, who is headed to the EJHL. Still, if you’re looking for quality hockey awfully close, Malden is a good option. The Lancers play at the Malden Valley Forum in Malden.
Must See Game: TBD
EJHL — Where do all those college teams in the Boston area get all those players from? Mostly from the local prep schools and the EJHL. The Tier III Junior A league has become a good breeding ground for the college stars of tomorrow, with Hobey Baker winner Matt Gilroy among the league’s alumni. With many of its teams in and around the Boston area, mostly playing out of community rinks, the EJHL has good hockey for a fair value, even if the atmosphere is a little drab at most games. Recent EJHL alumni Charlie Coyle, a first-round pick by the Sharks (who then traded him to the Wild), and 2012 Nashville draftee Jimmy Vesey skated for the South Shore Kings, a team that plays out of the local rink in Marlboro. So there is plenty of talent to make it worth the trip. For more about the EJHL: http://www.easternjunior.com/
Must See Game: Bay State Breakers at Valley Jr. Warriors, Oct. 27, 8:20 p.m., Haverhill North Rink — The Jr. Warriors, led by reigning EJHL coach of the year Andy Heinze has a pair of big time prospects in Devin Tringale and Ryan Fitzgerald on his roster. Both will take part in the All-American Prospects Game in September and should be on many draft boards this year.
Must See Player: Ryan Fitzgerald — Valley Jr. Warriors — The Malden Catholic senior decided to stay in school, but play for the EJHL’s Warriors. The son of longtime NHLer Tom Fitzgerald, Ryan is looking to turn heads in his first draft-eligible season. He has some NHL scouts buzzing about his speed and skill despite a lack of size, so he could hear his name called next June. He’s committed to Boston College for 2013.
Also, maybe you don’t want to just watch hockey, but play hockey. Or perhaps you’d just like to learn how to skate. Here’s a complete listing of rinks in Massachusetts.
About to enter Year 2 of the Terry Pegula era, Sabres fans are likely expecting results in the upcoming season after finishing just outside the Stanley Cup Playoffs picture last year. With a pair of first-round draft picks in Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons gunning for spots, the Sabres are going to be young, but potentially exciting. Optimism coming into the year makes the pending lockout so much more difficult to bear. Luckily for the Buffalo faithful, Western New York has become a bustling hockey hot bed and there’s plenty of ways to fill time.
CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game — For the first time ever, USA Hockey will gather all of its best prospects for the upcoming NHL Draft under one roof. That roof will be provided by the home of the Sabres, First Niagara Center. With 40 of the top American-born draft-eligibles participating, it is sure to be an intriguing game. Players from every developmental background will be on display in Buffalo, showcasing the diverse routes players take to the NHL Draft. This early-season event will give Sabres fans a few hours to not think about the lockout. The Complete Roster is available here. For more: http://www.usahockey.com/TopProspectsGame.aspx
Game Details: Sept. 29, 7 p.m., First Niagara Center, Tickets $15-$20
Must See Player: Seth Jones — Portland Winterhawks — Arguably the best American prospect since Patrick Kane, the big defenseman will be the marquee player suiting up in this early-season prospects game. After captaining the U.S. U18 squad to gold last year at the World U18 Championship, Jones is headed to the WHL. He should compete all year with Nathan MacKinnon for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. He’s well worth the price of admission.
Canisius College, Niagara University — The Buffalo area has two Division I hockey teams that each play within the Atlantic Hockey Conference. Neither Canisius or Niagara are heavy-hitter programs, but each offers the exciting action of Division I college hockey. Canisius plays at the Buffalo State Sports Arena, while Niagara calls Dwyer Arena home. Both facilities are within a short drive from the First Niagara Center. If you’re having trouble deciding which to go see, they play each other at Buffalo State Arena on Nov. 16.
Must See Game: Niagara at Canisius, Nov. 16, 7:05 p.m. — This one-game set should give you a good taste of what both teams are all about. With more than a month of season under their belts, both teams should be ready to play. If you’re the type that needs to have a competitive drive for rooting for a team, perhaps you can pick your NCAA squad of choice by whoever wins this early-season tilt.
Rochester Americans — Having an NHL team nearby is great, but having one of the most historic franchises in minor league hockey history within an hour and a half drive is pretty nice too. If you’re really jonesin’ for some high level pro hockey, Rochester should be able to provide a pretty great outlet. Playing out of the historic War Memorial, the Amerks’ home since 1956 (don’t worry, it’s been renovated), attending a Rochester game is kind of like being a part of history. In the fickle markets of minor league hockey, the Americans have remained. With some exciting young Sabres prospects to get a look at, it’s certainly going to be worth the drive.
Must See Game: Syracuse Crunch at Rochester, Oct. 12, 7:05 p.m. — It’s going to be around this time where you’re going to start feeling really bad, as you’d be hoping to go to the NHL home openers by this point. But just because its the AHL doesn’t mean there can’t be similar excitement for a home-opening game. That same optimism for the new season, the freshly-painted lines, the buzz of the fans pouring through the doors. If you don’t get it with the Sabres, at least you can get it with the Amerks.
Must See Player: Zemgus Girgensons — Rochester Americans — The Sabres 14th overall pick from the 2012 Draft is an exciting player to watch. With powerful skating, deft skill and a hard-nosed attitude, Girgensons flies around the ice and makes things happen. Since he was drafted out of the USHL, he is not bound to rules that prevent 18-year-olds from playing in the AHL. So this is likely where he would have started if there was a season or not. The Sabres’ other first-rounder, Mikhail Grigorenko would have to be sent back to Quebec most likely, in the event of a lockout. It’s not often you get to see a first-round pick up close this soon after he’s drafted unless he makes the big club. He’d be worth the trip.
In case you want to get out on the ice yourself, here’s a list of rinks in the state of New York.
If you have a favorite spot to watch hockey that I didn’t include, please help out your hockey-loving neighbors and leave your ideas in the comments section.
Coming up Next: Southeast Division.
Previously on Living with the Lockout