There are no strikes or lockouts in college, junior or high school hockey, nor shall any NHL work stoppage inhibit the American Hockey League or lower-tier professional leagues.
While the sport’s quintessential league continues to face uncertainty as to its 2012-13 campaign, we know from past experience that all other professional and amateur circuits shall play on―and fill the void, if need be.
Some NHL venues are already assured high-profile hockey action within the next year, as six are slated to host an AHL game, while others will have either NCAA or Canadian major-junior contests.
For those unable to get through those top-rate turnstiles and who would otherwise be getting their fix through TV coverage, there will be options for live hockey action somewhere within every NHL market.
The highest-profile options―mostly minor pro, major-junior, Division I college and Junior A―for each market are as follows.
The Kings’ Double-A affiliate, the Ontario Reign of the ECHL, reside almost exactly an hour east of the Staples Center and barely an hour northeast of the Honda Center.
Fans of either team, or the game in general, who are not within short driving distance of those venues might have easier access to the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors. The fans of any of the NHL’s three California teams who are sandwiched between metropolitan Los Angeles and the Bay Area might try the Junior A Fresno Monsters of the North American League.
New England almost literally has everything in the way of hockey.
The Dunk will join Manchester, N.H.’s Verizon Wireless Arena as two of the NCAA’s four men’s regional hosts over the final three days of March. Before that, all 20 men’s and 14 women’s Division I college programs within the six states will go about their business, including the men’s Beanpot and Hockey East championships at TD Garden.
Elsewhere, the Boston Blades, featuring a multitude of recent and prospective U.S. and Canadian Olympians, are the lone American-based team in the Canadian Women’s League. And New England, along with the Mid-Atlantic, is the home of the Eastern Junior League.
The immediate metropolitan area includes two Division I collegiate programs at Canisius College and Niagara University. Just across the state border, slightly more distant Sabres fans living elsewhere along Lake Erie can take in an Erie Otters OHL, Jamestown Ironmen NAHL or Mercyhurst College game.
In the more inland portions of upstate New York, the Sabres have their AHL affiliate in Rochester, also the home of the RIT Tigers. At a greater distance, but still within the full or partial range of the Buffalo fanbase, are the likes of Cornell University, the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals and the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.
The Western League’s Calgary Hitmen continue to share the Saddledome with the Flames, meaning there will be at least 41 games at the city’s top facility this season.
Below the major ranks, the Alberta Junior A League’s Calgary Canucks and Calgary Mustangs will again vie for civic bragging rights. The rest of the AJHL’s Southern Division has teams sprinkled around the territory of the Flames’ fanbase.
The Charlotte Checkers, three hours away from Raleigh, are the AHL farm club and one of two pro hockey co-tenants of the Hurricanes in North Carolina. In between them sits the lower-level Fayetteville FireAntz.
Fans in the other Carolina have two ECHL options in the Greenville Road Warriors and South Carolina Stingrays.
The Blackhawks have their top farm team two hours west in Rockford, whose IceHogs are a natural regional rival to the Chicago Wolves.
The Denver Cutthroats, the Avalanche’s new Central League affiliate, will commence operation this season and join the University of Denver Pioneers as two conveniently located backup options if the city’s NHL team is barred from play.
Elsewhere in the state are the crosstown college rivals of Colorado Springs, the Air Force Falcons and Colorado College Tigers. Going the other way, about an hour directly north of Denver, one can find the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles.
Ohio State is across town at Value City Arena and has two intrastate, intra-league rivals in Miami and Bowling Green each within a two-hour radius.
Buckeye State puckheads can also look to the Cleveland-based Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL, the Cincinnati Cyclones and Toledo Walleye of the ECHL and the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL.
The Junior A Texas Tornado and minor pro Texas Brahmas are both easily less than an hour away from Dallas.
Stars fans from a greater distance of the NHL team can choose between the NAHL’s Corpus Christi IceRays or Odessa Jackalopes and the AHL’s Houston Aeros, San Antonio Rampage or Texas Stars.
The immediate metropolitan area has four major-junior teams within a two-hour radius in Plymouth, Saginaw, Sarnia, Ont. and Windsor, Ont.
Red Wings or no Red Wings, Joe Louis Arena will still have high-profile hockey in February and March when its hosts two of the state’s seven Division I college teams, Michigan and Michigan State, and later, the CCHA tournament.
A week after that, one of the NCAA regionals will be held at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, the home of Detroit’s AHL affiliate. Two other minor pro teams within reasonable reach are the ECHL’s Kalamazoo Wings and Toledo Walleye, the latter of whom are Detroit’s Double-A club. (Toledo, by the way, will be the other NCAA regional host.)
Non-major junior teams in Michigan include the Flint-based Michigan Warriors, the Kalamazoo Jr. Wings and the Port Huron Fighting Falcons of the NAHL, plus the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL.
Oh, and several of the aforementioned will be playing in this little thing called the Hockeytown Winter Festival at Comerica Park between Christmas and New Year’s.
Not unlike the Flames, the Oilers have a Western League co-tenant in the Edmonton Oil Kings, plus a whole division’s worth of AJHL teams scattered across their portion of the province.
In a matter of two to three hours, a Panthers fan residing in the Miami area can get to the other pro hockey team answering to the state dateline, the defending ECHL champion Florida Everblades.
Albeit from the opposite direction, the Blades are within roughly the same reach as the Lightning, their NHL parent club. Tampa is also less than two hours away from Orlando, which will regain its Solar Bears at the start of the coming season.
Besides the Golden Gophers and four other Division I college programs of both the men’s and women’s variety, the self-proclaimed State of Hockey houses the NAHL’s Austin Bruins and prestigious high school and travel teams.
Similar options are scattered around the neighboring states of Wisconsin, Iowa and the two Dakotas.
In the Quebec Major Junior League, there are a dozen teams scattered across, well, Quebec. The same league has six more teams in Atlantic Canada, which is permeated, at least in part, with Habs rooters.
The Knoxville Ice Bears of the Southern Professional League are the Predators’ only hockey cohabitant in Tennessee. Although, the SPHL also hosts a multitude of teams in bordering states, including the Mississippi RiverKings.
The Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Isles’ longtime AHL affiliate, are just across the state border. Not much farther away in Hartford sits the Rangers’ feeder club, the Connecticut Whale.
About three hours north of the metropolis are both the Devils’ farm team in Albany, as well as the Union College Skating Dutchmen, who are coming off their first Frozen Four. New Jersey itself houses Princeton University and the ECHL’s Trenton Titans.
Besides the Ottawa 67s, the Ontario League’s Kingston Frontenacs are roughly two hours away from the Canadian capital.
Being along the Ontario-Quebec border, though, Sens fans are likely to be closer to such QMJHL teams as the Gatineau Olympiques than they are to the bulk of the OHL.
The AHL Phantoms are no longer neighboring their parent club, or even living within the state, but eastern Pennsylvania still has a satisfying spread of minor pro hockey.
The Hershey Bears, who served as the Flyers’ AHL affiliate from 1984 to 1996, will have their 75th anniversary season two hours west of Philadelphia. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins reside three hours northwest of the city and will engage the Bears in an outdoor contest this season.
In addition, the ECHL’s Reading Royals play at one lower level, but from within a shorter distance of the Flyers’ fanbase epicenter.
The Central League’s Arizona Sundogs are the state’s lone pro hockey co-tenant to the Coyotes.
The Consol Energy Center will host the 2013 NCAA Men’s Frozen Four in collaboration with the nearby Robert Morris program.
Two hours east of the Penguins, the NAHL’s Johnstown Tomahawks are the current tenants of the historic Cambria County War Memorial. Two-and-a-half hours north are the aforementioned Erie Otters and Mercyhurst College Lakers.
If the NHL incarnation is not viewable, then fans along the state border can still see another form of the Blues over in the capital of Illinois. The Springfield Junior Blues are the longest-tenured team in the North American League and are roughly two hours away from the Scottrade Center.
Those located or willing to go farther from St. Louis can go four hours west to the CHL’s Missouri Mavericks or four hours east to their team’s AHL affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen.
Beginning this autumn, the Sharks will have a new ECHL farm team right in the Bay Area in the San Francisco Bulls. The Bulls, who will play at the Sharks’ original home in the Cow Palace, will have a natural regional rival in the Stockton Thunder.
Unlike Philadelphia, Toronto still has its AHL affiliate within city limits, as the Marlies look to build upon their appearance in the 2012 Calder Cup Finals. The rival Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal’s farm club) reside an hour’s drive to the southwest.
In addition, 17 of the 20 tenants of the Ontario Hockey League reside within the title province, meaning there is likely someone somewhere in reasonable vicinity for the Maple Leafs fanbase.
The Brampton Battalion plays within hardly a half-hour drive from Toronto, while the Mississauga Ice Dogs and Oshawa Generals are within roughly an hour. Those who live or are willing to go farther away from the Air Canada Centre have 14 other options within provincial limits.
The Western League’s Vancouver Giants continue to inhabit the Canucks’ former digs at the Pacific Coliseum, while 16 Junior A teams comprise the British Columbia League.
Virginia has the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals, and the aforementioned Hershey Bears are less than three hours away from their current parent club, the Capitals.