Chicago Blackhawks: Top Hockey Options During the Lockout
As seems to be his forte as commissioner, Gary Bettman has once again guided the NHL and NHLPA to such an impasse that a player lockout has occurred. Without further breaking down the trifecta Bettman has managed to achieve on his career as commissioner, Chicagoland hockey fans are left to wonder what to do.
Of course, the White Sox are pushing for the playoffs. The Bears are just starting up a very promising season, and the Bulls preseason starts reasonably soon.
For many, however, the love of the sport of hockey is much stronger than the love of any one team or player. The desire and passion to view the sport finds its way past the NHL lockout, or potential classic Hawks games on CSN.
There are plenty of hockey options in the Chicagoland area, as is the case with just about any major metropolitan area in the Midwest or Northeast. Listed here are a few of the top options.
Rockford IceHogs, AHL
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While not the geographically closest option for Hawks fans, making the drive out to Rockford to see the IceHogs is arguably the most logical for those really wanting to see familiar faces.
As did many NHL teams upon learning of the lockout, the Blackhawks optioned every player able to be optioned down to Rockford. Some familiar names to Hawks fans who will suit up for Rockford this season are Nick Leddy (pictured), Marcus Kruger, Jimmy Hayes, Ben Smith, Dylan Olsen, Brandon Pirri, Brandon Saad, and Andrew Shaw.
As always, Rockford will serve to develop Chicago's top prospects. Some players who would have likely made Rockford's roster will likely be assigned to the Toledo Walleye, the ECHL (AA) affiliate whom the Hawks share with Detroit.
Chicago Wolves, AHL
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For fans still seeking high-level hockey, but not wanting to make the trek out to Rockford, the Chicago Wolves are also an option.
The drawback (or potential bonus) to the Wolves is their affiliation with the Hawks' rival, the Vancouver Canucks. However, with the NHL locked out, this may be overlooked by those seeking nearby, high-level professional hockey.
Chicago Steel, USHL
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The top-level amateur hockey in the United States, the Chicago Steel have competed in Bensenville since 2000. Amongst their alumni are current NHL players—as much as one can use that term right now—John Moore (Columbus Blue Jackets), Tom Gilbert (Minnesota Wild), and a bunch of top draft picks still developing. The USHL consistently produces NHL caliber players, including the Hawks' Patrick Sharp.
This season, the Steel will be lead by a pair of 2012 NHL draftees: Mackenzie MacEachern (pictured), who was taken in the third round by the St. Louis Blues; and Jaccob Slavin, taken in the fifth round by the Carolina Hurricanes. MacEachern is joining the Steel for his first season with the team, and Slavin will enter his third.
2011-12 season ticket holders for both the Blackhawks and defunct Chicago Express of the ECHL are eligible for a special rate for 2012-13 Steel season tickets and flex plans.
Collegiate and Midget Hockey
Blackhawks prospect Joe Lavin at Notre Dame
While the closest top-tier college hockey program may be in South Bend, there's still plenty of college-level hockey in the Chicagoland area.
The specific teams to watch likely vary by where you are in the area. Tickets likely won't run much more than parking for a Blackhawks game, and the hockey will be fast and competitive. Fighting is banned at the college level, so that may be a drawback in the eyes of some.
As for various junior and midget hockey, this offers players almost assuredly younger than the USHL brand, however, it offers cheap, fun, local entertainment.