If I had any money, I'd be willing to put all of it down on the NHL season starting sometime after it's scheduled October 11 start date. It doesn't really take a rocket scientist to figure that out: Even though we have several more weeks before a lockout actually begins on Sept. 15, the sense of urgency thus far from both the NHL and NHLPA has been less than satisfactory.
The owners in particular do not seem afraid to use a lockout as a bargaining chip, a tactic that seemingly assures at least some sort of work stoppage. Couple that with the fact that the gap between the two sides remains wide and the thought of hockey being played in 44 days seems slim.
So we're probably going to need to find a new hockey fix this fall, at least temporarily. Where can we turn?
American Hockey League
The Adirondack Phantoms (schedule/tickets from $15) would be the logical first place to turn. It's the Flyers' organization and many of our young prospects will likely be playing at the Glens Falls Civic Center in the event of a lockout. Plus, it'll be extremely interesting to see what Terry Murray does behind the bench this season.
Of course, it's a five hour drive from Philly to Glens Falls, but if you're really interested in some live hockey, it's a great trip to make on a weekend where the Phantoms have two or three home games. Pro-tips if you're planning a trip:
- Every seat in the GFCC is a good one. It's an old rink with a ton of charm -- really, it's minor league hockey in it's ideal setting. You'll be able to get walk-up tickets, so don't worry about that unless you want something specific. Parking does suck, though.
- Stay in Saratoga Springs. It's roughly 20 minutes south of Glens Falls, but there's a lot more to do and the nightlife is ... well, it exists. Better restaurants, better bars and probably a better overall time. That's not to say you shouldn't get dinner in Glens Falls or something, but there's just more to see in Saratoga.
If you're not interested or unable to make the drive north to basically Canada, games are available to stream online via the league's AHL Live package. It's $575.99 (!!!!!!!!) for the entire season, which seems utterly ridiculous compared to the NHL's less-than-$200 price tag for GameCenter Live, but alas. You can also watch individual AHL games via AHL Live for somewhere in the $6 or $7 range. Radio broadcasts are usually available for free on team sites.
There's obviously plenty of hockey closer then that, though, so let's take a look at other options.
In the AHL, the Hershey Bears (schedule/tickets) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (schedule/tickets) are the only teams considered local, and unfortunately the Phantoms wait until after the New Year to visit either club. The Bears are the Capitals' AHL affiliate and the Pens are ... the Penguins ... affiliate. Hershey plays home games at Giant Center, a little less than two hours west of Philly. The Baby Pens play at Mohegan Sun Arena, roughly two hours and 20 minutes north of Philly.
The AHL's Albany Devils will play the WB/S Penguins at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall on Sun., Nov. 25 (tickets). That's the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and hopefully the Flyers are back in action by then, but the game wouldn't be an awful option if we're still hockey starved by then. It's a unique venue, even if we're supposed to hate both teams. The Phantoms visit in January.
Other AHL teams within four hours driving of Philadelphia: Binghamton Senators in Binghamton, N.Y.; Bridgeport Sound Tigers in Bridgeport, Conn.; Connecticut Whale in Hartford, Conn.
The AHL season begins October 12. Full schedule here in PDF form.
Luckily for us, ECHL hockey is a bit closer to home and even more affordable than the AHL. The Trenton Titans (schedule/tickets from $15) are the Flyers' AA affiliate, playing their home games just across the Delaware in New Jersey's capital city. The trickle-down of talent will likely impact the Titans in the event of a lockout -- perhaps not as much as it will the Phantoms, but there will be displaced AHL talent looking for work in the ECHL. Everybody will feel the lockout to some extent, and Sun National Bank Center won't be a bad place to catch some hockey.
If you're on the Pennsylvania side of the river and the city, the Reading Royals (schedule/tickets from $9) might be a better option. Games are played at Sovereign Center in downtown Reading -- is downtown Reading an oxymoron? -- and the Royals are the AA affiliate of the Washington Capitals.
The Titans and Royals are playing a free preseason game at Sovereign Center on Saturday, October 6. They'll also play in the Trenton area the night prior, but there's no word if that game will be free as well.
The Elmira Jackals play in Elmira, N.Y., a four and a half hour drive from Philly. The ECHL season begins October 12. Full schedule here.
Division 1 NCAA hockey
At the Division 1 level, the Penn State Nittany Lions (schedule/tickets) will begin play as an independent this season. They'll play Vermont at the WFC in January, but their inaugural D1 season begins October 12 against the powerhouse (that's a joke) American International College Yellow Jackets.
Overall, PSU's first year features a cupcake schedule and virtually no chance of a trip to the national tournament, but it's hockey and could be a fun lockout trip. The Nittany Lions will play at Greenburg Ice Pavilion on their State College campus before moving to the brand-new Pegula Ice Arena next year.
PSU will also ice a women's team (schedule) this season at the D1 level. Their season begins October 6 at Vermont, while their home schedule kicks off October 13 vs. Syracuse.
The Princeton Tigers (schedule/tickets) play a little closer to home, and if you've never seen a game at Hobey Baker Rink on the historic Princeton University campus, you need to go whether there's an NHL lockout or not. Tickets are cheap -- ten freakin' dollars, $6 for kids -- and honestly, this might be my favorite place in the world to watch a hockey game. They play in the solid ECAC Hockey conference and kick off their home schedule Nov. 9 vs. Cornell.
Other NCAA D1 hockey programs within four hours driving of Philadelphia: Army Black Knights in West Point, N.Y.; Sacred Heart Pioneers in Milford, Conn.; Yale Bulldogs in New Haven, Conn.; Quinnipiac Bobcats in Hamden, Conn. All but Army ice both men's and women's teams at the D1 level. TD Bank Sports Center at Quinnipiac and Ingalls Rink at Yale --- aka The Whale -- are both pretty awesome in their own ways and worth a visit if you have the means.
Most D1 games can be watched online for a fee. Check conference and team websites. Also, free radio feeds are available for most, if not all, collegiate D1 games.
Other collegiate hockey
The Neumann University Knights (schedule) play in NCAA's Division 3. They're the only Philadelphia-area college that plays NCAA-sanctioned ice hockey (unless you consider Princeton in the Philly area). National champions in 2009, the Knights finished with a 15-8-3 overall record a season ago but a poor 3-6-3 record in their ECAC West conference. In the postseason, they lost the ECAC West championship game to Hobart College.
Neumann kicks off the 2012-13 season on the road against Elmira College on November 2. They play home games at IceWorks in Aston, kicking off the home schedule November 9 vs. Utica College. Neumann's women's team kicks off their home schedule November 3 in Aston vs. Buffalo State College.
At the club level, the American Collegiate Hockey Association sanctions all collegiate club-level hockey in the United States. It's a massive organization, split up into three Divisions and a ton of smaller governing conferences. It's not to be confused with NCAA-level hockey, though -- these are mostly student-run clubs at each school.
Nearly every Philly-area school has a team. A full list (note that some schools multiple teams at different levels):
- ACHA Division 1: Drexel University, Villanova University, PSU-Berks, Lehigh University, Lebanon Valley College, University of Delaware, West Chester University, Rutgers University.
- ACHA Division 2: University of Pennsylvania, Monmouth University, Millersville University, Muhlenberg College, The College of New Jersey, La Salle University, Saint Joseph's University, Rider University, Temple University, Rowan University, University of Delaware, Princeton University, Rutgers University, Susquehanna University, Gettysburg College, Kutztown University, University of Scranton
- ACHA Division 3: PSU-Brandywine, Richard Stockton College, Rowan University, Neumann University, Bryn Athyn College, Bloomsburg University, Widener University, PSU-Harrisburg, Alvernia College, Shippensburg College, Dickinson College, Wesley College, Rutgers University, West Chester Universit, East Stroudsburg University.
The Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association governs play between several local ACHA D1 schools, as does the Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League. The Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference governs play between most local ACHA D3 schools.
Let us know if we missed any, and check the ACHA website for women's programs as well. Many ACHA games are available to be viewed online. Details here. Tickets to these games vary depending on the school but the vast majority are free.
High school hockey is also pretty damn big in the Philadelphia area. Go to virtually any local rink and you'll find details. We'll provide a guide to following European hockey later in the week.