5 Reasons to Support the AHL During the Lockout
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While troubling, it should be seen as an opportunity for avid hockey fans to expand their horizons into new sources of hockey.
Christmas time is actually one of the best times of the year for non-NHL hockey with the World Junior Championships kicking off the day after Christmas. There are also ample NCAA contests to attend if there is a program in your backyard.
There also is the American Hockey League, the place to find many young NHLers from last season in action. With the NHL in hibernation, the AHL is probably the most accessible level of hockey for many fans.
Here are five reasons to support the AHL while the NHL decides how best to alienate the fans.
1. Plenty of NHL-Level Talent
Justin Schultz - Okla. City Barons (EDM)
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While the NHL bickers, the AHL continues to reap the benefits of the lockout in the form of some of the NHL's youngest stars.
Each AHL team is sure to have at least one or two players on the team right now that would be a top six forward or top four defenseman in the NHL. Some teams have entire lines on the team, like the Oklahoma City Barons, the affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers, who have the ability to roll a Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle line.
Currently in the AHL right now, beyond the stacked Barons roster, are a number of top NHL talents such as: Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier - Adirondack Phantoms (PHI), Cody Hodgson and Marcus Foligno - Rochester Americans (BUF), Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Portland Pirates (PHX), Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller - Connecticut Whale (NYR) and Sven Baerstchi - Abbotsford Heat (CAL).
It's safe to say that if you have the opportunity to watch any of these players, it is worth your while to do so. Eberle and Justin Schultz of the Barons currently share the points lead in the league with 38 points in 26 games, and they're only getting hotter.
This list does not include the guys that will surprise in the AHL this year and make a run at an NHL roster, of which there are a couple each year. Last year's AHL MVP Cory Conacher is an excellent example of that, and had the NHL had a training camp he would have been afforded every opportunity to make the Tampa Bay Lightning.
2. Ability to Watch Players Gain Experience
Charlie Coyle - Houston Aeros (MIN)
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This may be geared towards the more avid hockey fans, but even a casual fan can appreciate that you cannot make it to the NHL overnight. It takes a lot of work and development by coaches at many levels to get an NHL player ready for that level of competition.
Likely being the final step for many young players before the NHL, fans will be able to see the final step of the players' development on the ice before they're ready to make the jump to the next level.
Players in the AHL do not need to hone their skills as much as players in major junior or other amateur leagues do. Instead, AHL coaches are worried about teaching their players the system that the NHL team uses. An AHL player will also be a lot more accountable in the weight room, as they need to get faster and stronger off the ice too, in order to make an impact on the NHL-level.
By attending an AHL game, you get to see the trials and tribulations of the growth of a young star before your eyes. There will be more mental errors and more coaching going on than the NHL level, making it seem like a learning experience for everyone involved.
The fan is getting to know the players, the players are getting to know the system. That dynamic makes an AHL game a learning experience for people on both sides of the glass.
3. More Regionally-Accessible Than Other Non-NHL Leagues
Cody Hodgson - Rochester Americans (BUF)
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The AHL is certainly not the only game in town when it comes to non-NHL hockey while the lockout lingers, but it definitely has the widest reach of the available outlets.
The AHL has 30 teams, one for every NHL team, and those teams are well distributed around the United States and Canada.
While lacking in western teams—the Abbotsford Heat are the only team west of the Rocky Mountains and there are only five teams west of the Mississippi River—the eastern United States and Canada have plenty of options.
Hockey is typically strong in the northeastern United States and southern Ontario, and that's where most teams are located, but there are plenty of options elsewhere.
Another positive is only one team located in an NHL city—Toronto—and only one more located in an NHL city suburb—the Chicago Wolves play in Rosemont, Illinois just north of Chicago. That means many hockey fans that do not live in NHL cities still have an opportunity to see some high-level hockey.
The CHL has some outlets for hockey fans, especially if you include the World Junior Championships which will be on NHL Network the week after Christmas, but not nearly as many as the AHL, which also has more name recognition in its players than the CHL.
4. It's Cheaper
Brayden Schenn - Adirondack Phantoms (PHI)
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It's not a state secret that taking a family to an NHL game costs a small fortune. That is likely why many fans are growing irate over the entire lockout to begin with. Especially when many can just find their way to an AHL game for a fraction of the cost.
Currently, the Manchester Monarchs, the affiliate of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, have tickets available for as low as $18. If you only work with box office prices—which ignores the fact that you can get Coyotes and Panthers tickets for $3 on StubHub—that is likely $20 cheaper than most base level NHL prices.
At the beginning of the year, the Worcester Sharks, the affiliate of the San Jose Sharks, had a buy one get one sale, which meant tickets cost about $10 for the upper deck.
Concessions are not going to be cheap anywhere you go, but when you're saving that much on ticket prices, a $10 beer doesn't hurt quite as bad.
Unfortunately hockey games will never be as cheap as a Triple-A baseball game, but the AHL's affordability is much higher than an NHL game, which is another reason to get yourself to some games.
5. No Lockouts!
J.T. Miller - Connecticut Whale (NYR)
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The simplest reason? The AHL never locks out!
In the last two lockouts especially, the AHL has been an escape for the hockey starved among us. While the NHL toils in absurdity, the AHL just keeps on playing as if nothing is happening on the other side of the curtain.
In the AHL it's never about anything but the hockey, and that is something the jilted NHL fan will flock to as this drags on and on.