Are you a Sabres fan looking for something to do for the next month or two (hopefully not beyond)? Fear not, the looming NHL lockout does not mean that your ability to watch hockey will also be locked out.
There are a number of options available to fans to fill in their time originally planned for the Sabres. A night out in Western New York, a day trip to Dino BBQ and Rochester or television will still offer different options for those who are hoping to see hockey on a regular basis.
Just yesterday, NBC Sports Network unveiled their college hockey broadcast schedule for 2012-13. The Network will air 20 games throughout the year along with providing coverage of the Hockey East playoffs. Of course, Hockey East is the most obnoxious conference in the country, so don't feel obligated to watch that.
The NBCSN coverage begins on October 12 (right when the regular season would have begun) and offers one to two games per month right on through to league playoffs and the NCAA tournament.
For those looking for live action, there are a number of teams you can check out right in your backyard. Canisius College and Niagara University are both NCAA D1 programs that play in Atlantic Hockey. The Purple Eagles also boast a women's side. That doesn't include Mercyhurst College (90 minutes down I-90) or Buff State's DIII team who plays in the ultra-competitive SUNYAC. Check out Buff State when Oswego is in town, they're a national power nearly every season. Or you could spin down to Fredonia for a game or two as well.
If you haven't managed to take in a college hockey game, do it. They are physical affairs with plenty of talent. You will be particularly interested in the games if you can't stand the "soft style" that the Sabres often employ. It is my experience that hits typically outnumber scoring chances in many NCAA games.
The junior ranks are another phenomenal outlet for fans to enjoy and there are more than you would think in our backyard. The Buffalo Junior Sabres play in the OJHL and produce NCAA talent on a yearly basis. In addition, the Jamestown Ironmen (NAHL) are a short trip into the southern tier away for most fans.
Buffalo-area hockey fans are also in close proximity to the primary junior development league for the NHL. The Erie Otters can been seen after a quick jaunt down the thruway and the Niagara Icedogs are just up the QEW. If you're looking for NHL-caliber hockey, or to check out draft eligible prospects, these are the teams to watch.
Then, of course, you have the Amerks. Not only can you grab a bite at Dino BBQ prior to, or after the game; you can catch the Sabres' top prospects in action. To name a few players you can expect to see in Rochester this fall; Zemgus Girgensons, Marcus Foligno, Mark Pysyk, JGL, Phil Varone, Luke Adam, Connor Knapp, Nathan Lieuwen, and the ever lovable Matt Ellis. Other Sabres veterans would need a specific waiver set up to find their way to Rochester, otherwise they will be left in the cold. If the right waiver rules are in place, other young Sabres players could potentially spend part of the year playing for the Amerks.
Catching an Amerks game is a good option even when the NHL is in full swing. It offers a different look at the Sabres organization, a peek at some of the up-and-coming players in the Buffalo system and a chance to see two teams you normally wouldn't hear much about. The chance at a garbage plate or BBQ is probably enough of a tipping point for most to make the drive.
Don't fret Sabres fans, there is a better than good chance that some form of hockey played by the NHL this year. It may not come until November, but there should be NHL hockey played in 2012-13. In the meantime, expand your horizons. There are other teams out there to watch, players lazier than Thomas Vanek and goalies worse than Ryan Miller. Maybe you will even expand your hockey IQ by seeing these games. Who knows?
Check out each team site for schedule and ticket information:
Rochester Americans - www.amerks.com
Erie Otters - www.ottershockey.com
Niagara IceDogs - www.niagaraicedogs.net
Buffalo Junior Sabres -www.buffalojuniorsabres.com
Niagara University - www.purpleeagles.com
Canisius College - www.gogriffs.com
Buffalo State - www.buffalostateatletics.com