Regardless of sport, for those that enjoy stadium travel in the US and Canada, it can be difficult to find an entire league to visit. Several reasons are to blame for the geographical divergence, money being the main one (I’m looking at you, NCAA). However, there are still a few options for those wanting to travel only by car and none are better than the Ontario Hockey League. Diversity is the biggest positive for choosing a journey through the OHL. Cities range from the capital in Ottawa to tiny Owen Sound (population just over 20,000). There is great opportunity not only to visit the province, but the league also ventures into Michigan and Pennsylvania. The arenas provide a nice variety in size and architecture with old classics like those in Kitchener and North Bay mixed with modern beauties like in London. Finally, a very important factor in my book is the atmosphere and in many of these towns, there is a deep, vested interest in their home hockey franchise. That translates to a much better crowd experience than typically found in the professional hockey minor leagues.
This is why over the last few years I’ve made some trips up to Canada and I am planning on making the trip through the league. My brother Eric has been joining me and my family back in Rochester, NY is a strategic place to branch off from as 19 out of the 20 teams are within a six hour drive (the remaining city, Sault Ste. Marie, is a hike from anywhere). In the last few years we have seen Barrie and Kingston, just enough to wet our appetite for future years and trips. For anyone looking to go the same route, check out The OHL Arena & Travel Guide, a longstanding online fixture that is the definitive source for the entire experience.
There are a couple of other leagues worth an honorable mention……In basketball, the vastly underrated experience is the Missouri Valley Conference. It matches the OHL in many categories and can be done all by car. From Chicago to Cedar Falls to Carbondale and points in between, fans come out in droves during the freezing winter months. Probably the best experience in all of college basketball is at the Roundhouse in Wichita State. The set of arenas is as diversified as the sport has to offer……For a more laid-back leisurely league trip, check out the Southern League, in the AA-level of Minor League Baseball. Comprised of 10 teams, baseball’s everyday schedule allows for this trip to be done in a two-week period if crafty with planning. Lots of new ballparks to enjoy and there are nice places to tour along the way as Jacksonville, Pensacola, Biloxi and Chattanooga all are in the league’s footprint.