Lockout Guide to Getting Through NHL Withdrawal

By Alan Neuhauser on November 19, 2012 11:03am 

NEW YORK — It’s another winter of discontent for the city’s small but rabid tribe of hockey fans.

The NHL lockout — the league's third since 1994 — dragged past the two-month mark Thursday, as the latest round of talks between team owners and the NHL Player's Association over a new collective bargaining agreement faltered.

Commissioner Gary Bettman has canceled 327 games — every game in October and November, plus the Jan. 1 Winter Classic — and experts around the hockey world are predicting that the sides are so far apart, the league may ultimately lose the entire season to its labor dispute.

The fight leaves North American pro hockey fans staring down the barrel of another winter as bleak as an empty hockey rink. But while the Stanley Cup could remain in its case come June, there are plenty of minor league and junior league teams near New York City, where you can catch future stars of the NHL — or at least get your fix for goal songs, air horns and bodies slamming into the boards.

After scouting the AHL, ECHL, CHL, college teams and hockey bars here’s DNAinfo.com New York’s NHL nicotine patch to keep you from going cold turkey this hockey season.

AHL Farm Teams

The American Hockey League is the NHL’s top-tier minor league, and the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils each operate AHL franchises roughly two to three hours outside the city. The teams offer cheap tickets, arena giveaways and an up-close view of NHL breakout stars like Chris Kreider and Adam Henrique.

The Rangers: The Connecticut Whale
Where They Play: The XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
How to Get There: About two-and-a-half hours by car or bus. Round-trip bus fares start at $46, and buses from Hartford to New York typically run as late as midnight. Metro-North trains from Grand Central Station only go as far as New Haven or Waterbury, so you’ll need a taxi for the 45-minute trip to Hartford. Amtrak trains run direct between New York Penn Station and Hartford, and tickets for the 90-minute trip start at $39.
Game Tickets: $10 to $45.
Mascot: Pucky the Whale, a green, 6-foot-5-inch anthropomorphic whale, adopted from the NHL's Hartford Whalers (the Whalers relocated to North Carolina to become the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997).
Team Traditions: “Brass Bonanza,” a fanfare that dates to the Hartford Whalers days, plays after every goal and each time the team takes or leaves the ice.
Rival: Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Familiar Faces: Chris Kreider (center/left wing), Kris Newbury (center), Matt Gilroy (defenseman). Kreider, 21, had an electrifying spring with the Rangers last season, signing an entry-level three-year contract after leading Boston College to its second straight Beanpot Tournament championship. Kreider came aboard just before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and he lit up the scoreboard with five goals and two assists in 18 games before the Blueshirts were eliminated by the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals. Newbury, 30, signed a two-year contract with the Rangers in 2010, but he has spent most of his time with the Whale. Called up Jan. 31, he notched one assist in eight games for the Rangers, then returned to the Whale Feb. 3. Gilroy, 28, spent last season with the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning before he was signed two weeks ago to the Connecticut Whale. He previously spent three seasons with the Rangers organization, racking up seven goals and 23 assists in 137 games from 2009 to 2011.

The Islanders: The Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Where They Play: Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.
How to Get There: The trip takes about 90 minutes by car or bus. Round-trip bus fares on Greyhound start at $27. Metro-North trains from Grand Central Station make the journey in about 80 minutes, and round-trip fares cost $24.50 or $32.50, depending whether you travel during peak or off-peak hours. Fares on Amtrak trains from New York-Penn Station range from $29 to $55.
Game Tickets: $15 to $47
Mascot: Storm Sounder, a blue Tiger.
Team Traditions: During home games, after every Tigers goal, the announcer shouts, "Sound Tiger!" Fans then give a tiger's roar or yell, "Goal!"
Rivals: Connecticut Whale; Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Familiar Faces: Matt Donovan (defenseman). Donovan, 22, played three games with the Islanders at the end of the regular season. Drafted in 2008 by the Islanders, he joined the Sound Tigers last season, during which he racked up 10 goals and 35 assists in 72 games.

The Devils: The Albany Devils
Where They Play: Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.
How to Get There: The trip takes about three hours by car or bus. Round-trip bus fares on Megabus, Trailways or Greyhound range from $14 to $39. Round-trip Amtrak tickets start at $40.
Game Tickets: $16.50 to $25.
Mascot: Devil Dawg, Clifford the Big Red Dog's bulldog cousin, featuring horns and a mean under-bite.
Rivals: Adirondack Phantoms; Syracuse Crunch.
Familiar Faces: Adam Henrique (center), Adam Larsson (defenseman), Jacob Josefson (center), Jay Leach (defenseman), Mattias Tedenby (right wing) Bobby Butler (defenseman). The Albany Devils' roster boasts three Devils stars who propelled the team to the Stanley Cup Finals last season (Henrique, Larsson and Josefson), plus NHL veteran Jay Leach, up-and-coming offenseman Mattias Tedenby and former Ottawa Senator Bobby Butler.

Road Trips: The CHL, ECHL and Canadian Quests to Watch the NHL’s Top Prospects

Hit the road and head north to one of the Canadian Hockey League’s revered Major Junior leagues to watch future NHL hall-of-famers in action. The leagues are age-restricted, but just because the players can’t grow playoff beards doesn’t mean they can’t dazzle with skating, stickhandling and thunderous boardchecks.

Take, for example, 15-year-old wunderkind Connor McDavid, who’s already attracted the attention of NHL poster child Sidney Crosby.

Crosby — once crowned as the future Wayne Gretzky by The Great One himself — told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last month that McDavid “reminded me of myself.”

McDavid, projected to be the top pick for the 2015 NHL draft, plays for the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters in Pennsylvania, one of the CHL’s three Major Junior leagues. CHL arenas, including Erie’s, are too far from New York City for a day trip, but they’re in, near or on the way to Canadian cities like Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City and Vancouver. Plus, tickets cost just $20.

There’s also the ECHL, formerly named the East Coast Hockey League, which is the NHL’s second-tier minor league. ECHL matchups offer great venues to watch cheap games and new hockey talent, and the league includes teams in Binghamton, Providence, R.I., Worcester, Mass., and, notably, Hershey, Pa. — an easy addition to a weekend spent visiting Hershey Park with the family.

To check out CHL or ECHL teams and rosters, visit each league’s respective website.

College Teams

New York boasts eight men’s college ice hockey teams in and around the Big Apple. Most games take place on weekends, and tickets are free. Only the New York University Violets, however, actually play in New York City. The rest find ice time in New Jersey, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley.

Columbia: The Lions
Where They Play: The Ice House in Hackensack, N.J.
How to Get There: About 30 minutes by car from Midtown. New Jersey Transit buses make the trip in about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic, with a transfer in Secaucus or on Route 46. Round-trip bus fares range from $13 to $19.
Mascot: Roaree Lion
Fight Song: “Roar, Lion, Roar”
Rivals: New York University, Fordham.

Fordham: The Rams
Where They Play: The Ice Hutch in Mt. Vernon.
How to Get There:
About 30 minutes by car from Midtown, or take the 5 Train to its northern terminus at Eastchester.
Mascot: The Ram
Fight Song: “The Ram”
Rivals: Columbia, Hofstra.

Hofstra: The Pride
Where They Play: Ice Works in Syosset.
How to Get There: About 45 minutes by car from Midtown. LIRR trains make the trip in about an hour, and round-trip tickets cost either $16.50 or $23, depending whether you travel during peak hours.
Mascot: A pair of lions.
Fight Song: "March On, Hofstra"
Rival: Fordham

Manhattanville College: The Valiants
Where They Play: Playland Ice Casino in Rye.
How to Get There: About 45 minutes by car from Midtown. Metro-North rail from Grand Central Station makes the trip in roughly 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the train, and round-trip fares range from $16.50 to $22.
Mascot: The Valiant
Rival: Elmira College

New York University: The Violets
Where They Play: Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers in Chelsea.
How to Get There: Directions via the Chelsea Piers website.
Mascot: Bobcat
Fight Song: “Fight Song”
Rivals: Siena College, Marist College, William Patterson University, Montclair State University, University of New Hampshire

SUNY Maritime: The Privateers
Where They Play: Parkwood Rink in Great Neck.
How to Get There: About 40 minutes by car from Midtown. Long Island Railroad trains from Penn Station make the trip in about 30 minutes, and fares cost $10 to $20.
Mascot: The Privateer
Rival: U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

Stevens Institute of Technology: The Ducks
Where They Play: AmeriHealth Pavilion at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
How to Get There: About 30 minutes by car from Midtown. New Jersey Transit trains make the trip in less than 20 minutes, and round-trip fares cost $10.
Mascot: Attila the Duck.
Rivals: Columbia, Fordham, SUNY-New Paltz.

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy: The Mariners
Where They Play: Parkwood Rink in Great Neck.
How to Get There: About 40 minutes by car from Midtown. Long Island Railroad trains from Penn Station make the trip in about 30 minutes, and fares cost $10 to $20.
Fight Song: “King’s Point Victory”
Rival: SUNY-Maritime

U.S. Military Academy (West Point): The Black Knights
Where They Play: Tate Rink at West Point.
How to Get There: About an hour and 15 minutes by car from Midtown. Coach USA buses from the Port Authority Bus Terminal make the trip in about the same time, and round-trip tickets cost $30.50.
Fight Song: "On Brave Old Army Team"
Mascot: Mule
Rivals: Air Force, Royal Military College of Canada

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