Welcome to the 2012-2013 NHL Lockout!
As I’ve watched my NHL friends go through the grieving process this past week, I’ve realized how thankful I am that I’m an AHL fan. Things never seem this drama-filled in our little corner of the universe. We just go on with our lives, as unstable as they can be sometimes, very thankful that we actually have professional hockey to watch.
But guess what, NHL fans? You can watch professional hockey this season, too! Yes, even you! You, too, can be an AHL fan and enjoy all the things the AHL has to offer!
But just what is it that makes the AHL so special? Why are there so many of us preaching the AHL Bible? What does it all mean?!
Take a seat, friend. Let me tell you about why I love this league, and why you should become a fan.
5. It’s now the highest level of professional hockey in North America. The AHL is the developmental league for the NHL. One step down from the Show is our league. Since there is no Show–at least, not for the foreseeable future–the AHL is where it’s at!
4. The AHL is always good, but this year it’ll be a bit more special. As the second level of professional hockey in North America, the AHL always has amazing players, great games, and fast-paced hockey. This happens every season. Seriously. Some of you nonbelievers may scoff at us, but we have always had great hockey in this league. This year, though, teams will be more stacked than usual with bubble players who are good enough for the NHL but have no NHL to play in. We won’t have a Crosby or an Ovechkin, but we will have a Wyman, a Palmieri, and a Tangradi (thanks, Jason!). These guys will be working just as hard here–and maybe even harder–as they would have in the NHL. You’ll see younger players develop in leaps and bounds. You’ll absolutely see something special.
3. AHL players are way more accessible than NHL players. AHL teams know which side their bread is buttered on: the fan side. Therefore, they tend to make their players more accessible to fans than the NHL has to. For instance, very few buildings have fan-free areas after games where the teams load the buses in peace. Come to Syracuse and you can hang out on the street with the opposing team and get autographs and pictures. Crunch players park in the same parking garage as the people going to the game, so you can usually catch a few of them on their way out in the evening. I know the same can be said for Rochester, Bingo, Glens Falls, and Albany, as I have gotten autographs after games in all of those arenas. Teams also do a lot more with appearances throughout the season than NHL clubs do, with players appearing everywhere from carpet stores to coffee shops to bars. The AHL is where to go if you want a quick word or an autograph with tomorrow’s stars.
2. The people. AHL fans are some of the most genuine people I’ve ever known. Although I’ve known some great NHL fans, I really don’t think anything compares to the kaleidoscope of people who troop to their mostly small, slightly outdated buildings every game night to cheer on their team. Because of the comparatively low cost of an AHL ticket, the league attracts people from all walks of life, occupations, and education levels. We have fans in all socioeconomic group who attend games at a fairly regular basis, and they’re welcomed easily into the fold. We also have some of the most knowledgeable fans in the world, mostly because AHL fans have to be knowledgeable. We don’t get covered by ESPN (and ha, I know, the NHL doesn’t really, either, but still…more than us). We get local coverage of varying degrees, and if we want to know something or want to draw attention to something, we usually have to figure it out on our own.
1. The history and the passion. A good percentage of the AHL buildings in the East Division have a lot of hockey history in them. They’re War Memorials. They’re old. They have funny bounces along the boards and weird problems. We have bathrooms that never have hot water, we have fire alarms that go off random moments (during which no one bothers to leave), we have large shares in duct tape and super glue. We do things on our own because we always have, but also because we love the sport. The history that the AHL has created is rich in Cinderella stories, in passionate people who made hockey success in markets where there had never been hockey success before, and all of that is both shared with and credited to the fans, the people who spend their money, the people who pack buildings with a sell out of just about 6,000 people. When you have a problem with something, whether within your own building or within the league, there’s people you can go to. I chat with them on a regular basis. This league has some of the best customer service I’ve ever seen, and I’m damn proud to be a fan of the current top professional hockey league in North America.
So come on in, NHL fans. Be welcomed and appreciated. We’re waiting for you!