The Ontario Reign begins play next weekend. (Los Angeles Times )
Although the NHL lockout will keep the Kings and Ducks off the ice at least through Oct. 24 there are still a number of hockey alternatives in Southern California.
From the Ontario Reign — the Kings' ECHL affiliate — through college, high school, junior and youth leagues, teams are hoping to grab some of the spotlight usually dominated by the NHL teams.
"We're definitely not taking advantage of anybody's misfortune," said Justin Kemp, president of the Reign. "But we are going to at least take advantage of the opportunity to promote ourselves and hopefully keep hockey in the front of people's minds in a positive way while the lockout is being resolved."
The Reign next weekend will open its fifth season in the double-A caliber ECHL. The league's quality of play has risen the past few years and could improve again due to a trickle-down effect: NHL teams sent their top eligible young players to the American Hockey League to stay active during the lockout, probably producing an overflow of kids ticketed for the ECHL.
The league's focus is developmental, but Kemp said some older NHL players have shown interest in signing during the lockout. "The tricky thing is they all have to take insurance policies out on their contracts, and that's not cheap," he said. "In essence, they're almost paying for the opportunity to play here, so it's not for everybody."
Kemp said the team continues to advertise locally, has gotten some games on radio and is hoping to have a game or two televised. Ticket prices range from $10 for walkup to $50 at the glass, and mini-plans will include parking. .
"We're offering a lot of flexibility, especially during this time, for people that may be season ticket holders of the Kings and the Ducks but know they're not going to be seeing any hockey here for the first month or so," Kemp said.
Want to follow future stars before they go to college or the pros? Try the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League, which has grown to 14 teams. Former Duck and King forward Craig Johnson coaches Rancho Santa Margarita, whose roster includes Eemil Selanne, son of Ducks winger Teemu Selanne. Former Duck David Karpa coaches Los Alamitos, assisted by former Duck Jeff Friesen. Another former Duck, Jason Marshall, coaches Orange Lutheran. More information is available at http://www.anaheimducksgoalhighschoolhockey.com.
Want to wave your alma mater's colors? USC, UCLA, Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State and Loyola Marymount play at the Division 2 level of the non-scholarship American Collegiate Hockey Assn. College of the Canyons won the ACHA Division 3 title last season. Schedules are available at http://www.achahockey.org.
The Kings and Ducks support youth hockey and have sections on their respective web sites (www.lakings.com and http://www.anaheimducks.com) about their community involvement.
Another option is the Junior-A level Western States Hockey League, made up mostly of kids from 18 to 20 who hope to play at NCAA Division 3 schools. The league claims to range over 1 million square miles and has 22 teams, many of them operating as 501(c) (3) nonprofit corporations.
There are four local teams — the Long Beach Bombers, Valencia flyers, Ontario Avalanche and San Diego Gulls — and the league holds an annual college showcase in Las Vegas for NCAA Division 3 recruiters. Its web site is http://www.wshl.org.
"I think now's the time to get some attention," said Ron White, a longtime local coach and commissioner of the WSHL.
"It's been an evolution from fairly low-level junior play to today, where we've got some really good, strong competitive teams. We're still a pay-to-play league, because we can't operate without it. We just don't get the recognition, the gate, the sponsorships, things that they do up in cold country, where junior leagues operate that have that advantage."
For Kings center Anze Kopitar, who's playing for Mora IK of the Swedish second-tier Allsvenskan league during the lockout, convenient charter flights are a thing of the past.
"And away we go … 9 hours bus trip!!!" he said on his Twitter feed before Mora traveled to Karlskrona for a game Sunday.
But Kopitar said playing alongside his younger brother Gasper has made the entire experience worthwhile. "It's really nice! Chance to play with Gasper is great and I'm enjoying it a lot!" he said in a text message.
Kopitar had two goals and seven points in his first five games. "And you can see that Gasper has become a better player during the time since Anze has arrived," club spokesman Martin Watttberg said. "The fans in Sweden are really satisfied by watching Anze on the ice, both Mora IK fans and fans of the other teams."