1. Future Talent
The American Hockey League is, by definition, the primary developmental league for the NHL; meaning, that each of the 30 teams is a sort of stockpile of talent. Many of those guys will one day be called upon to step into an NHL role once they have grown into a mature and more complete player. One of my friends, Jen, a Houston Aeros fan and fellow AHL enthusiast said it best:
The AHL offers, in my opinion, a truly valuable opportunity for hockey fans to see the future of the NHL. While not every guy goes on, 80-something percent of NHL players started out in the AHL, and that includes quite a few who are now popularly regarded as stars.
As stated previously, the AHL is a developmental league. As a long time Peoria Rivermen fan, I can attest to this being one of the most rewarding aspects of AHL fandom. Many times, as a fan, you will be able to see a guy fresh from juniors or college, play in his very first professional game, all the way through his NHL career, witnessing all the trials and triumphs along the way. It is always satisfying to see your players succeed at the NHL level, but my own perspective, even more so when I have personally seen the turnovers and bad penalties take place. It makes the successes all the more sweet.
3. Past talent
The AHL is a beautiful mix of budding young stars and many names from the past. For example, in the 2009-2010 season, Derek Armstrong, formerly of the Islanders, Senators, Rangers and Kings, played with the Rivermen for 46 games. On January 30, 2010, Armstrong scored four times, showing that his talent was far from rusty. This coming season, Jonathan Cheechoo, who scored 56 goals for the San Jose Shark in the 2005-2006 season is likely to be a member of the Rivermen team. As quoted in the Peoria Journal Star, Cheechoo said of the team, “The Peoria Rivermen are a pretty good team on paper right now, and I’ll be glad to go there and be a part of it.”
4. Proximity and Cost
From door to the door, it two hours and 46 minutes Scottrade Center in St. Louis to Carver Arena in Peoria. In a very real way, this make the Blues very lucky to have their team so close. On one hand, this eases the process of shipping players back and forth when injuries and call-ups happen. On the other, this proximity makes is easy for fans in the St. Louis area to take an interest in the Rivermen. And why not? With the most expensive single game tickets costing $27.50, the cost is certainly not prohibitive and hey, who doesn’t love a good road trip every once in awhile?
5. Quality Hockey
Many NHL hockey fans seem to dismiss the AHL without much thought as an “inferior” product, “They aren’t even a real team anyway!” This attitude is a particularly sad one to have. The AHL is a real and very competitive league; they are professional athletes. Not only are they professionals, but due to the very nature of the situation, the players are at odds for an NHL roster position. As another friend of mine, Sarah, a Providence Bruins fan, said, “No one wants to stop at the AHL. The goal is The Show, the NHL, the big time, and a few in every AHL game will make it.” Every AHL game can be seen as an audition of sorts. Perform well and a player might get called up next time there is a necessity. Even barring a call up, success can, and usually is rewarded in other ways too; a shiny new contract or maybe even a little extra consideration when management is planning the NHL roster for the next season.
You can find me on twitter here: @PietranJello