Well here we are on November 9th and no NHL. This whole labor situation saddens and angers me at the same time. Let’s just skip past the subject and move on to arena updates in the Minor Leagues. The current top pro league (AHL) playing right now in US and Canada had a stable and quiet offseason with no changes amongst their 30 franchises. In the ECHL, they are getting closer to having the same number of teams which would give the AA league a nice feeder system to the NHL. One team however, did fold. The Chicago Express are gone in a completely oversaturated hockey and sports market (remember there is both an NHL and AHL team in Chicagoland). Their arena (Sears Centre) out in Hoffman Estates does remain on The List because the Chicago Slaughter of the Indoor Football League play there. A really nice addition this year is the historic Cow Palace in the San Francisco area. That city does not have a big time arena and this smaller venue has a lot of historical value. The San Francisco Gulls will play there this season. Also, the Evansville and Fort Wayne franchises that played in the CHL have moved up to the ECHL. Speaking of the CHL, there were a lot of changes as that league seems shaky. In addition to losing the Indiana teams to a different league, three other franchise shifts occurred. Dayton moved to the FHL, while Laredo and Rio Grande Valley folded. Both of those arenas are safe though as indoor football teams play there. One interesting change though was another old arena in a big city. The Denver Coliseum will now host the Denver Cutthroats. I know, vicious name, but apparently its a fish. They may want to rethink that one. Lastly, out of the single-A Federal League most of their six team league has changed. The most interesting note is from the new Williamsport Outlaws. They are playing the entire season outside. That’s right outside! I can’t imagine this working, but their entire 30 home game schedule will be at an ice rink at Bowman Field, home of baseball’s Crosscutters. Best of luck on what I think is a gimmicky play that will struggle when it loses its sex appeal and when the weather sucks.
In the junior leagues, let’s start in the US, where the lone new hockey arena can be found. In the USHL, the Omaha Lancers will be moving into brand new Ralston Arena this season. Ralston is a suburb of Omaha and will also be home to University of Nebraska-Omaha basketball as they make the transition to Division I. Interesting to note that there are now four arenas in the Greater Omaha market. Downtown has two (Qwest Center and the older Auditorium), while across the river in Council Bluffs is the Mid-America Center. Back to the USHL, the Indiana Ice will be playing in Bankers Life FieldHouse this year as their old home Pepsi Coliseum, undergoes an extensive renovation and won’t re-open until 2014-2015. The lower tiered NAHL sees many changes as three franchises move and four fold. One of those folding is the Dawson Creek Rage. A weird fit in the NAHL given how ridiculously far north they are in BC, but anyway it’s a shame as they are off The List because there is no tenant left at the brand new EnCana Events Center. In Canada ‘s junior leagues, Sherbrooke is back in the Q. We welcome the Sports Palace back as the Maine experiment failed in Lewiston and the franchise returns to it’s old home of ten years ago. In the OHL, the Ottawa 67s will play in the Senators’ arena as the old Ottawa Civic Centre will undergo a two year renovation. One last arena note comes from London, home to one of the most beautiful small arenas in that country. The John LaBatt Centre is no more. It is now known as Budweiser Gardens. How disgusting is that, the home of John LaBatt and the building named in his honor and the LaBatt Brewery in town, has now changed to an “American” beer. Remarkably, it was Labatt that made this happen as they are a part of Anheuser-Busch and they brew/sell Budweiser. They required that the name be changed when they renewed their naming rights contract. This whole thing just doesn’t sit right and I’m sure many Londoners aren’t happy with the renaming of the JLC.
Finally in NCAA Hockey, Penn State began it’s Division I program this year. We are still a year away from their brand new arena thanks to Terry Pegula (Also known as Mayor of Upstate New York and the Owner of the Buffalo Sabres!), but until then they will play in the tiny Greenburg Ice Pavilion.