Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: Appeasing my professional hockey cravings with Cleveland's Lake Erie Monsters.

1.05.2013

Appeasing my professional hockey cravings with Cleveland's Lake Erie Monsters.

As much as I'm not a fan of the state of Ohio, I am glad that there are multiple professional hockey teams here that aren't in the NHL. Like many a hockey fan out here, seeing the NHL's fourth league-wide work stoppage in its history drag on without end isn't helping my need to see flying pucks out there (when I'm not playing goalie in my own games) so I've had to look for some alternatives. Fortunately, there is hope here in the Buckeye state as there are several teams in both the ECHL and AHL, the leading 'AA' and 'AAA' professional leagues in North America, respectively.

Now that I reside in NE Ohio most of the time for my job, I am less than 30 minutes away from the Quicken Loans Center in downtown Cleveland, home of the Lake Erie Monsters, the AHL affiliate of the NHL's Colorado Avalanche. For Christmas, Matt surprised me with tickets to the next home game and a jersey to wear to my first AHL game!

That was a surprising Christmas present!
I've followed AHL teams for a while, especially during the 2005 NHL lockout. Attending an actual game was a whole new experience for me as there are no AHL teams in California, only the Ontario Reign, Stockton Thunder, San Francisco Bulls, and Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL which is a tier below the AHL. I did have the privilege of watching the now-defunct Long Beach Ice Dogs (IHL/ECHL) a few years ago when my best friend gave me a row of tickets for my birthday, which was my only minor-league experience back home. Other than those teams, anyone who watches the LA Kings, the Anaheim Ducks, and the San Jose Sharks will just have to sit tight and wait for both the NHL and the NHLPA to stop with the contractual fisticuffs.
With the current NHL lockout, there were a lot more recognizable names in the lineup because of factors such as free agency, the need to stay conditioned until the lockout (hopefully) ends, or the choice to stay in North America to play hockey instead of travel to Europe. In fact, the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Monsters' opponent during the 12/29/12 game we attended, had two former Columbus Blue Jackets players in their lineup (Mike Commodore and Mike Blunden). The goalie of the Lake Erie Monsters, Calvin Pickard, is the younger brother of Chet Pickard, who played for the ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones.

Here's the view from our seats.
Center ice from ice level.
It was "Mascot Night" at The Q because Sully the Seagull (bottom left), the Monsters' mascot, was celebrating his birthday. Stinger of the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets is skating on the right. I wonder how Stinger feels to be unemployed right now. 
With the minor leagues, there are quite a few obvious differences. As a fan, ticket prices are much cheaper at both the AHL and ECHL levels. In fact, glass seats at the US Bank Arena to watch the Cincinnati Cyclones were only $30 a pop instead of the hundreds of dollars one would spend at Nationwide Arena to see the Columbus Blue Jackets. Fan attendance isn't as big so the games can sound a bit quieter. You also end up seeing a lot of players that you don't recognize, but in the end, you still get some good hockey.

I will say, the overall fan experience at the AHL level is just at par with the NHL but in smaller venues with less fans. When you're watching a game in the ECHL, just be wary of $1 beer nights and the far more homely environment. (Those are fun but in a very different kind of way.) I had a lot of fun during the Lake Erie Monsters game and would like to return to The Q to see another one.

I leave you with a small clip from ice level of the warm-ups of Calvin Pickard and the Lake Erie Monsters. Enjoy.