If there’s no NHL to watch during the start of the hockey season, where else can you get your puck fix this fall? That’s the focus of this week’s THN.com Top 10.
The onetime home to elite Wild prospect and native Finn Mikael Granlund and numerous other NHLers could become home to a number of them again in the case of a prolonged lockout. Surefire Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne has already publicly speculated he might play for Jokerit – and if the 42-year-old legend chooses that route, it could be the last professional team he plays for.
9. The ECHL
Considered to be the third-best pro hockey league in North America, the ECHL expands to 23 teams for 2012-13 (including new franchises in San Francisco, Orlando, Fort Wayne, Ind., and Evansville, Ind.). There won’t be any NHLers or top prospects playing in this league during the lockout, but the quality of hockey is nothing to sneeze at.
8. Your Local Arena
That’s right – no matter where you are, there’s probably a hockey game being played right now. It might be a bunch of eight-year-olds playing house league games or a Jr. B. barn-burner. In any case, admission will be a fraction of what you’d pay for an NHL ticket and your view of the game will usually be much better.
A number of NHLers (including Doug Weight) played in Germany’s top hockey outfit during the 2004 lockout and there’s little doubt some will this time as well. This league also has the closest thing pro hockey has to a dynasty: Eisbären Berlin enters this season as the back-to-back defending champions.
Sweden’s top league announced in late August it would not sign any locked-out NHLers unless they agree to play for the entire season, but nobody would be surprised to see NHLers who are native Swedes stay for the full year.
In less than two years, the best Canadian and American female hockey players will be in the spotlight at the Sochi Olympics. However, you can watch many of them up close and in person long before then by attending a CWHL game in one of five markets (two in Ontario, and one each in Quebec, Alberta and Boston).
4. The NCAA
U.S. collegiate hockey has taken big strides in recent years and has passionate fan bases from coast to coast. The annual Beanpot and Frozen Four tournaments are must-sees regardless of whether the NHL is in operation.
The Russian-based league is now the best hockey organization outside of North America and is intent on attracting more talent (especially homegrown talent) prior to the 2014 Sochi Games. They’ve already got stars such as Alexander Radulov and could land even bigger names if there’s no NHL hockey.
Canada’s three junior leagues have established themselves as solid entertainment options for all hockey fans – and with the satellite TV package that opens their product up to broader horizons, there will be more people than ever paying attention to the planet’s top amateur league this season.
The NHL’s primary feeder system was the place many NHL-caliber players (including Jason Spezza and Ray Emery) went to play in 2004 and there’s no doubt teams will send a number of AHL-eligible players there again.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.