As we are now ten days into the lockout with nothing to show for it but a cavalcade of hockey players cashing in their Airmiles and setting up camp in Europe, let us continue to look at other leagues to which abandoned fans can turn to in their time of need.
Next up...the Ontario Hockey League!
Junior leagues like the OHL may become even more appealing to NHL fans who aren't fans of fighting after the league imposed new penalties, under which a player will receive an automatic two-game suspension if they fight more than ten times and for each fight following. If a player fights 16-20 times in one season, that player's team will be fined $1,000 for each fight, and players will be suspended four games should they instigate a fight following their tenth fight (as per Sportsnet).
Formed in 1974 as a Tier 1 Major Junior breakaway league from the Ontario Hockey Association, the OHL is one of the three leagues that make up the Canadian Hockey League, the junior system which acts as one of the main feeder leagues to the NHL. This summer, there were twelve players selected from the OHL in the first round of the NHL Draft, including first overall pick Nail Yakupov, who has chosen to play in Russia instead of returning to Sarnia this season.
But that doesn't mean that other big names won't be tearing it up in the "O" this fall; Islanders and Bruins picks Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton are just two of the players trying to make the most of the extra development time with the Niagra Ice Dogs before making the leap to the big league.
After the jump, the down-low on who you should be watching and everything you need to know to show up all your friends with your extensive junior hockey knowledge come Boxing Day!
Top of the Pops
The aforementioned Ice Dogs finished first in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 with 97 points and 47 wins in 68 games while the London Knights, Patrick Kane's alma mater, did them one better in the West with 99 points and 49 wins.
The Oshawa Generals and Flames second-round pick Patrick Sieloff's Windsor Spitfires rounded out the playoff positions in their respective conferences, but in the end it was the QMJHL's Shawinigan Cataractes who defeated the Knights in overtime to claim the Memorial Cup.
Through two games so far this season, the Bellville Bulls, Niagra Ice Dogs, and Sudbury Wolves are undefeated at the top of the East while the Kitchener Rangers, London Knights, and Owen Sound Attack have accomplished the same feat in the West.
Out With the Old, In With the New
It would be more fortunate for the CHL if the AHL were experiencing the same labour woes as its parent league, as teams have lost over-agers to the NHL's farm system ahead of its season debut in October. Very few of last season's top-20 scorers will be playing in the O this year including top scorer and Colorado prospect Michael Sgarbossa, Brandon Saad (Chicago), Shane Prince (Ottawa), Tyler Toffoli (LA), Tanner Pearson (LA), and Greg McKegg (Toronto).
It's not all bad news, however, especially for this summer's draft picks who may now get even more a chance to shine. Brendan Gaunce, Olli Maatta, Slater Koekkoek, Radek Faksa, Cody Ceci, and Alex Galchenyuk are all 2012 draftees on the list of players to watch.
For Flames fans it's all about Patrick Sieloff, whose Spitfires will have to overcome the loss of Alex Kokhlachev to the KHL if they hope to squeeze into the playoffs again this season. Also of some interest is Adam Pelech, brother of former Flames draft pick Matt Pelech, who plays defence for the Eerie Otters and was drafted in the third round by the Islanders in June.
Holding Down the Fort
P.K. Subban's little brother Malcolm is expected to be the OHL's shining star in net this year. The 2012 draftee won 25 of his 39 games last season with a .923 SV% and three shutouts. Mark Visentin and Scott Wedgewood are also expected to shoulder most of the load again for the Ice Dogs and Plymouth Whalers, respectively. Both goalies played over 40 games last season.
World Junior Wonder
An extended NHL lockout means that some of Canada's best U-20 players might be available to suit up for their country at this year's World Junior tournament.
Scott Harrington, Boone Jenner, and Ryan Murphy are all current or former OHLers who could have a shot at making Canada's World Junior Team as 19-year-olds.
What's On Tap?
The Windsor Spitfires take on the Kitchener Rangers Thursday at 7:05 while the Peterborough Petes and Eerie Otters clash at the same time, followed by the Sudbury Wolves and Saginaw Spirit at 7:11 and the Owen Sound Attack and Barrie Colts, who face off at 7:30 Thursday evening.