The world of hockey fandom has breathed a collective sigh of relief over the last few days, as the lumbering machine that is the National Hockey League awakens from a nap and prepares to end a three-month lockout next weekend. For fans in several dozen communities in the United States and Canada, though, hockey has continued unabated thanks to "minor professional" leagues like the AHL and ECHL.
The Syracuse Crunch face off against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. 14850 Photo.Here in Ithaca, we're blessed not only with Big Red Hockey, but with no fewer than four minor pro teams within a drive of an hour or two: the Syracuse Crunch, Binghamton Senators, Elmira Jackals, and Rochester Americans. As ticket prices (not to mention refreshment costs) skyrocket at "big league" sporting events, these remain an affordable outing for families and groups of friends.
The Syracuse Crunch date back two decades, getting their start as the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks in Hamilton, Ontario before moving south to the OnCenter War Memorial in 1994. Now an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Crunch boast a league-leading 23-7 record going into a pair of home games this weekend against the Norfolk Admirals and the Rochester Americans. Ticket prices start at $15, and a cold beer is just $5.
The Amerks, as Rochester's affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres are popularly known, have gotten a marketing boost this season from the otherwise largely bored Sabres PR staff, waiting out the NHL stoppage. Rochester's close enough to Buffalo that frustrated Sabres fans have been able to pop out to games, and close enough to Central New York for fans to enjoy their rivalry with Syracuse.
The Binghamton Senators, too, have a pair of home games this weekend, facing the Adirondack Phantoms and the Norfolk Admirals. Their games are played at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, and longtime Cornell hockey fans may recognize radio broadcaster Grady Whittenburg. The B-Sens host the Toronto Marlies next weekend, which could provide a chance to see Cornell alum Ben Scrivens in the net. Scrivens has a 0.917 save percentage in 22 games so far this season with the Maple Leafs affiliate, after setting a franchise record 0.926 save percentage and 2.04 regular-season goals-against average last season.
Bring the family without breaking the bank. Elmira offers $3 "lap tickets" at First Arena for kids 2 and under. 14850 Photo.
Another Cornell player from the past will be in the area this weekend, as the Evansville IceMen visit the Southern Tier for a pair of games against the Elmira Jackals. Patrick Kennedy has been on and off the Indiana ECHL team's active roster, but is playing lately as the team's dual NHL affiliates, the Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues, begin recalling their possible rosters. Former Big Red teammate Sean Whitney was on the IceMen roster briefly last month before being claimed off waivers by Bakersfield.
Jackals tickets start at $12, $2 less for kids and senior citizens, and they offer hot dogs, sodas, and popcorn for $2. Until the NHL machine gets back in gear, or even after they do, these close-by hockey teams provide an affordable way to get your hockey fix.
Cornell's women are on the road this weekend. 14850 Photo.As for Cornell, the Big Red women return to action this weekend with a pair of away games in New England, playing at Northeastern on Saturday and Boston College on Sunday, before hosting St. Lawrence and Clarkson at Lynah Rink next weekend. The men have a weekend off after last weekend's losses at Denver, and return to action on the road next weekend at Union and RPI.