Should the NHL lockout cause real games to be cancelled this fall, hockey fans will want their fix and we’re here for you. Here’s a look at which teams you can follow live, no matter which NHL market you live in.
Anaheim/Los Angeles – Geography mandates that I group these two hated rivals together. The closest pro teams in action are the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors and Ontario Reign. But Southern California also boasts one of the best minor programs in the nation with the L.A. Jr. Kings (who recently merged with the L.A. Selects).
Boston – An embarrassment of riches. Beanpot college hockey (Boston U., Boston College, Harvard, Northeastern), the Bruins’ nearby American League affiliate in Providence and various Eastern Jr. League teams.
Buffalo – Canisius and Niagara both play NCAA, while the Buffalo Jr. Sabres compete under GM/coach Michael Peca in the Ontario Jr. A League, where many future NCAA kids come from.
Calgary – The Western League’s Hitmen will be exciting to watch this year thanks to highly rated rookie Jake Virtanen up front and Senators draft pick Chris Driedger in net. Lots of Jr. A, too.
Carolina – The Jr. Hurricanes churned out their first blue-chip prospect recently in defenseman Charlie Pelnik, who will play in the United States League for Fargo before heading to the University of North Dakota. Go see who’s got next on the under-18 team.
Chicago – The AHL’s Wolves always put on a great show and will have Vancouver’s top youngsters in the lineup. The USHL’s Steel boast St. Louis draft pick Mackenzie MacEachern up front, while midget hockey is also strong locally.
Colorado – The Denver Cutthroats take to the ice for their inaugural Central League season, while the NCAA’s Pioneers will once again be strong with Isles pick Scott Mayfield on the back end and Shore brothers Nick and Quentin up front.
Columbus – Ohio State hockey will be front and center thanks to a strong returning cast led by Ottawa pick Ryan Dzingel and incoming frosh goalie Collin Olson (Carolina).
Dallas – The CHL’s Allen Americans are closest in a busy Texas hockey market and owned by ex-NHLers Mike Modano, Ed Belfour, Craig Ludwig and Steve Duchesne.
Detroit – Michigan Wolverines hockey is close by, as is the Ontario League’s Plymouth Whalers and the U.S. National Team Development Program, not to mention midget powerhouses such as Little Caesar’s, Belle Tire, Compuware and Honeybaked.
Edmonton – The WHL’s Oil Kings are defending league champs and will be just as good thanks to Isles pick Griffin Reinhart and 2013 draft prospect Curtis Lazar. Lots of Jr. A, too.
Florida – Sunrise is pretty far from anything hockey besides the Panthers, but in less than two hours you can get to Estero, home of the ECHL’s reigning champs, the Florida Everblades.
Minnesota – I don’t need to tell Minnesotans what other hockey is out there. From multiple NCAA teams to elite high school teams, there’s a lot to watch. High school hockey doesn’t start for a while, but the best players are in the Upper Midwest Elite League tourney right now.
Montreal – The Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec League will be hot this year and New Jersey Devils first-rounder Stefan Matteau is a new face to watch.
Nashville – The Southern Pro League’s Knoxville Ice Bears provide in-state entertainment, but the University of Alabama-Huntsville is actually closer (same for the SPHL’s Huntsville Havoc).
New York/New Jersey – Army has the NCAA covered, while AHL affiliates Bridgeport and Connecticut aren’t too far for Isles and Rangers fans. The Eastern Jr. League also boasts a couple good teams in the area, while New Jersey high school hockey has produced some prospects lately. Princeton reps the NCAA in New Jersey, while Trenton has the ECHL covered.
Ottawa – The OHL’s Ottawa 67’s boast a nice 1-2 punch with defenseman Cody Ceci (a Senators first-rounder, to boot) and center Sean Monahan, a top-five prospect for the 2013 draft.
Philadelphia – The AHL’s Hershey Bears aren’t too far away, nor are the ECHL’s Reading Royals. Philly also boasts EJHL hockey and isn’t too far from a lot of the same teams covered under New York/New Jersey.
Phoenix – Less than two hours away from Phoenix, you can find the CHL’s Arizona Sundogs, where Yotes defenseman David Schlemko got his start in the pros. The Jr. Coyotes minor program has also produced NHL draft picks Zac Larraza (Phoenix) and Philip Samuelsson (Pittsburgh).
Pittsburgh – Robert Morris University has the NCAA locked down, while the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms are just past the Ohio border. Likewise, the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers are over the line in West Virginia.
St. Louis – Shockingly tough, since the St. Charles Chill of the CHL don’t start until 2013-14. The NAHL’s Springfield Jr. Blues are the closest high-level outfit, while the midget St. Louis Jr. Blues are also a good development program.
San Jose – The new San Francisco Bulls start in the ECHL this year and are the Sharks’ affiliate to boot.
Tampa Bay – The Orlando Solar Bears are back! They’ll compete in the ECHL this year and are fewer than two hours from Tampa.
Toronto – Not only do the AHL’s Marlies play in town, but the OHL’s franchises in Mississauga, Brampton and Oshawa all ring the city. Plus, the Toronto-Lakeshore Patriots and St. Michael’s Buzzers have Jr. A covered.
Vancouver – The Giants of the WHL will be pretty good this year, with legendary coach Don Hay behind the bench. Also, the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat are about an hour away, if you want to boo Calgary prospects. Lots of Jr. A, too, as the B.C. League is one of the best in the nation.
Washington – With no minor pro in Baltimore right now, the Washington Little Capitals program is the only organization of note. Habs pick Jarred Tinordi got his start there before heading to Team USA.
Winnipeg – Again, shockingly thin. The WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings and Minnesota high school’s Roseau Rams are the closest, but still three hours away. Lots of good bantam/midget teams, though.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN’s associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.