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Getting a hockey fix in Ontario is worth it — and then some

While the NHL endures another lockout, Southland fans can watch hockey at reasonable prices at one of the most amazing arenas in sports. And the snack bar may have the Stanley Cup of dishes.

December 27, 2012|Chris Erskine
  • The Ontario Reign mascot, "Blaze", teases Ice Girl, Lauren Michelle, on the ice during ugly Christmas sweater contest last weekend.
The Ontario Reign mascot, "Blaze", teases Ice Girl, Lauren… (Chris Erskine / Los Angeles…)

Without getting into the arcane details, here's what's happened to the NHL: There's a big honking wad of money, more money than you can imagine, more money than in Brentwood or Beverly Hills or Dubai. The owners, who already have big honking wads of money, want even more of it (that's why they're owners). The players, who are ridiculously overpaid, don't want to give up too much.

Hence, there is no hockey so far this season. The hoped-for nudge that the holidays often bring to these kinds of proceedings — a kindness of spirit, a recognition of Visa bill balances and late mortgages — seems not to have materialized.

So, we may have no NHL hockey at all this season, a setback for society of the utmost magnitude. How thugs will spend their long winter evenings remains to be seen. I'm talking, of course, of the fans.

Like you, I needed a hockey fix, which I found out in Ontario, famous for having an airport no one uses, managed by the City of Los Angeles, which can't even run the major airport it already has — don't get me started.

But Ontario is a fine little half-city and a hotbed of minor league hockey. Such hockey, of which you may not be overly familiar, is a niche within a niche, a Russian pocket doll of a sport. The only thing it has going for it is blood lust and beer. For 5,000 years, civilizations have been built on less.

Honestly, is this a sport or a Farrelly brothers movie?

Love hockey, having played on the ponds of the upper Middle West, where you knew the season was over when suddenly the ice gave way and you were swimming with the walleye.

"Hmmm, guess March is here," you'd tell the walleye as you flailed around, looking for a stump to grab.

Anyway, out in Ontario, they have one of the finest sports facilities you've never seen. No arena should ever be bigger than Citizens Business Bank Arena. Few are nicer.

"Let's see, your total comes to $51," Ryan the ticket rep told me, after I'd ordered three seats down near the glass.

At an NHL game, that'd be your sales tax.

But there are no NHL games, so here we are with the other frustrated Kings fans, who've come out looking for their fix as well.

What do you get for your 50 bucks? Well, some pretty intense hockey. In the game we saw, there was 10 minutes of civil unrest that had the 8,409 inmates (fans) in such a frenzy that someone should've called out the National Guard. In my 35 minutes of following minor league hockey, I have never seen anything like it.

The Reign has one player, Colton Yellow Horn, the best name in pro sports, at least since the retirement of Tedy Bruschi. I just love that name. Colton Yellow Horn. He's as tall as a fireplug but poured of tougher metals. If he were born 150 years earlier, he'd be robbing your stagecoach right now.

"But what of the cuisine?" you ask.

The Reign snack bars serve one of the most majestic dishes in all the world, a Noah's Ark of a sandwich, longer than your arm and four times as tender. What the chefs here do is take an already too big sausage, then roof it with two inches of pulled pork. When you order this Pulled Pork Big Dog, cardiologists around the world get a text message.

This sandwich alone is worth the hour drive to Ontario. Have your photo taken with it, the way you would a national monument, then proudly post it on Facebook.

The hockey is worthy too. I don't know that many of these players are destined for the NHL. They seem more likely to swing between other minor league franchises, or sometimes the American Hockey League, until pressed and shaped by the struggles of such a life, and opponents' punches, an occasional diamond emerges.

Till then, what you get is great entertainment. On the night we went, they had something called "The Banjo Cam," during which fans pretend to play as banjo music blares. For three minutes, I was pretty sure I'd died and gone to Kentucky.

Frightfully, at one point the snack stand near us ran out of beer. Let me just note that a hockey arena running out of beer is like a hospital running out of blood.

Somehow, the game went on.

After the Brawl of the Century, the Reign gave up two quick goals, then rallied to tie, after which this Mr. Yellow Horn won it on a Meadowlarkian, puck-between-his-skates shootout goal.

Minor league hockey is a Farrelly brothers movie, all right, complete with blood lust, beer and heroic endings, for about the same money you'd burn to see "This Is 40."

When you go, tell them the NHL owners sent you.

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