Missing hockey? It’s in your own backyard.
In the midst of a continuing NHL lockout US and Canadian fans and players alike have been left wondering how to get their hockey. Lucky for them, long before their was an NHL lockout there were other franchises already playing in their own backyards.
Ok, so they aren’t the NHL, but in the current situation it isn’t uncommon to see an NHL player or two out on the ice playing for an ECHL team, and NHL players who went into the 2012-2013 season on two-way contracts can be seen playing with their AHL affiliate teams. A good example of that would be Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby who is playing for the AHL Hershey Bears.
Woah wait…the what leagues? The AHL (American Hockey League) and the ECHL, a league often referred to as “The Coast League,” can be considered among the premiere leagues of North America behind the National Hockey League. The ECHL is celebrating their 25th year as a league this season and in the throes of the NHL lockout has become a haven for out of work NHL players needing to keep their conditioning up.
Current rosters in the ECHL include LA Kings Kyle Clifford (ECHL Ontario Reign), MN Wild Torrey Mitchell (ECHL San Francisco Bulls), LA Kings Trevor Lewis (ECHL Utah Grizzlies), Columbus Blue Jackets Brandon Dubinsky (ECHL Alaska Aces), San Jose Sharks Ryane Clowe (ECHL San Francisco Bulls), and the list goes on from there.
Simply put, while some ECHL organizations are affiliated with NHL teams the ECHL squads have some leeway when it comes to signing NHL players. The players have to pay their own insurance fees, which can oftentimes be more than their monthly ECHL salaries, but are otherwise treated just like any other player in the lineup.
Obviously their presence makes for some fan excitement. When Torrey Mitchell arrived in San Francisco last week, fans were delighted that the former Shark was returning to “home” territory. Local news outlets were quick to jump on interviews with the Canadian born center but his debut at San Francisco’s historic Cow Palace was met with a crowd of only 2,032 fans according to the official box score from Wednesday January, 2 in a losing tilt (2-1) against the Colorado Eagles.
For fans desperately needing a hockey fix, don’t overlook the teams and leagues that can be found from coast to coast. An abundance of players take to the ice every week to offer up showings of the sport some fans seem to be missing with the absence of the NHL.
The SPHL (Southern Proffesional Hockey League) may not have any NHL stars, but they do have players worth taking a look at from Florida to Memphis. The CHL (Central Hockey League) now boasts NHL player Alec Martinez of the LA Kings who recently returned to the States after a rough go in Finland. Toss in countless Junior teams and you have yourself a pretty decent season of live hockey…you just need to know where to look.