The chance of salvaging a worthwhile 2012-13 National Hockey League season grows increasingly slimmer, with flagship events like the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game already cancelled, and roughly one-third of the season off the books (and counting). But professional hockey continues to be played in North America-- particularly in the NHL-affiliated American Hockey League (AHL) and ECHL (as well as a handful of teams from the Central Hockey League (CHL)).
Many casual sports fans may be less familiar with hockey's minor leagues, so we will now take a quick tour of AHL and ECHL (as well as affiliated CHL) stadia-- specifically those that, in these days of lockouts and strikes, with little regard for the fans caught in the crossfire-- admirably sidestep corporate sponsorship.
As the primary developmental league for the NHL, each franchise has an AHL affiliate. Twenty-six of these teams are located in the United States, with the other four in Canada-- and of those total 30, 19 have sold off their naming rights.
Many of the remaining are named for their city or region, including the Texas Stars' Cedar Park Center, the Abbotsford Heat's Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre, the Adirondack Phantoms' Glens Falls Civic Center, the Binghamton Senators' Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, and the Portland Pirates' Cumberland County Civic Center.
The Norfolk Admirals' Norfolk Scope is named both for its city as well as its structure and concept. "Scope" is a contraction of kaleidoscope, meant in this case "to convey the myriad of activities which will be taking place under the coliseum's domed cover." The arena is also the once and current largest concrete dome, having both opened before and now outlasted Seattle's former Kingdome.
A similar hybrid is the Syracuse Crunch's home of Oncenter War Memorial Arena. Originally named Onondaga War Memorial, incorporating the name of the local county, the Arena is now part of a larger civic and entertainment complex (hence, Oncenter). The War Memorial itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was once home to the Syracuse Nationals (who are now the Philadelphia 76ers). The Memorial hosted the deciding game for the NBA Championship as the Nationals defeated the then-Fort Wayne Pistons in 1955, as well as the All-Star Game in 1961, and the Arena is also familiar as one of the backdrops used in the movie Slap Shot.
The Peoria Rivermen call the Peoria Civic Center home; specifically, the Rivermen-- as well as the Bradley Braves-- play in the Civic Center's Carver Arena, named for a former mayor. The same is true for the Hamilton Bulldogs' Copps Coliseum, and the Grand Rapids Griffins' Van Andel Arena is named for the team owners and Arena benefactors.
Finally, the St. John's IceCaps play in the Mile One Centre, so named for its positioning at the beginning of the Trans-Canada Highway. Technically, the arena's name is a trademark owned by a Canadian businessman and politician's family foundation, but for now it stands as more of a civic reference than a corporate payoff.
Affiliations beyond the AHL grow a little murky, as the ECHL has 23 total teams, with five that share two parent NHL clubs each, and three others independent of attachment altogether. Similarly, the CHL, while not formally tied to the NHL and its Players' Association, does have three teams with NHL affiliation, a fourth with an AHL relationship, and six independent franchises (with another set to debut next season). For our purposes, we will stay focused on the NHL-affiliated teams in each league.
Unlike the AHL, all ECHL teams play in the United States. Of the 23 franchises, 16 have stadiums with corporate sponsorship-naming deals. Four are named for their city or region, including the Stockton Thunder's Stockton Arena, the South Carolina Stingrays' North Charleston Coliseum, and the Gwinnett Gladiators' Arena at Gwinnett Center.
The fourth locality-based name is the Fort Wayne Komets' Allen County War Memorial Coliseum-- where the IPFW Mastodons and Fort Wayne Mad Ants also play, and former home to the Fort Wayne Pistons. This incarnation of the Pistons is responsible for the Coliseum hosting the NBA All-Star Game in 1953, as well as the Finals in 1955 and 1956. The grounds of the stadium also abut Johnny Appleseed Park, so named as it memorializes the conservationist's final resting place.
The Kalamazoo Wings and their Wings Stadium draw on past affiliation as well as regional proximity with the NHL's Detroit Red Wings, though-- as they are now affiliated with the Vancouver Canucks, as well as the AHL's Chicago Wolves-- the so-called K-Wings have worked hard to develop their own identity. This is evident with, among other endeavors, their renowned colored-ice games-- including orange for Halloween, pink for Valentine's Day, and green for St. Patrick's Day.
Rounding things out, the San Francisco Bulls play their games in the famous Cow Palace. Officially the 1-A District Agricultural Association, and formerly the California State Livestock Pavilion, the commonly known moniker originated during the Great Depression when a local newspaper protested, "Why, when people are starving, should money be spent on a 'palace for cows'?" The nickname stuck, and in its 70-plus years the Cow Palace has also been home to the San Jose Sharks; the then-San Francisco Warriors, and host to the NBA All-Star Game in 1967 and the Finals in 1964, 1967, and 1975; site of the 1960 Men's Basketball Final Four; and backdrop to a pair of Republican National Conventions in the mid-twentieth century.
As for the CHL, the 10 (soon to be 11) team league is spread across the USA, with three of the four quasi-affiliated teams having unsponsored arena names. These include the Missouri Mavericks' Independence Events Center, the Allen Americans' Allen Event Center, and the Denver Cutthroats' Denver Coliseum.
While the millionaires and billionaires continue to squabble and hijack their product, and as stadiums and arenas increasingly morph into billboards with bleachers, what better way to still get your hockey fix-- while at the same time protecting the integrity of your entertainment dollar-- than by supporting high-level talent that competes in a barn which remains a naming-rights holdout? Sounds like a perfect compromise, and a thoroughly enjoyable outing, to me.