September 19 2012 12:11PM
G'day Hockey Fans! (If you haven't figured it out, that's "Hello, Hockey Fans!", as exclaimed by broadcasting God and Calgary Flames legend Eddie Whalen IF he were Australian National Treasure Paul Hogan. These and other adorable cultural stereotypes to follow)
So you, the loyal NHL fan who spent all your milk money on hockey tickets and plush Henrik Zetterberg body pillows and not even any milk, have just had the NHL spit on your neck by locking out the players
for the first time ever for a gut-jarringly depressing third time, and you're wondering what to do. Daddy is a hockey junkie jonesin' for a hit. So where do you turn? Rehab would help, but I'm not here to judge you.
Instead, I come offering an olive branch of peace and a lending hand and no olives because they are gross. You want to watch hockey. The NHL and it's players might be hunkered down in it's fortress of greed and false pretenses, but that won't quell your desire to lounge idly on your couch, without pants and motionless if not for a twitch on your TV remote thumb or the graceful movement of beer can to mouth, contently letting your grim existence slip lifelessly away, just so you can breathe in one more breath of that beautiful game with which we are all blissfully and eternally in love. (I'm talking about hockey. Sorry if that run on sentence wasn't clear)
Well, I shouldn't have to tell you, you high minded and progressive citizens, that in this day and age, the day of the internet, there are a wealth of options out there for you to satiate your deepest, vulcanized rubbery desires. I have tried to put together as comprehensive a list that I could compile of various professional, semi-professional, and junior/amateur/college leagues that have some sort of LEGAL online or authorized television broadcast available to you free, or at the very least on the cheap.
And it wasn't easy! There were a lot of dead ends here, and I do believe the language barrier came into play once or twice (who knew I couldn't speak Czech?). As a result, this list, while robust and handsome, is not as in-depth as I was hoping and assuming it would be. Tracking down as many resources as I could eventually became unnerving and exhausting, and it made me cry and miss the easily accessible NHL that much more.
But I digress.
(I of course cannot confirm nor deny the existence of less than legal, or illegal, means of watching live broadcasts streamed for free. I am not telling you that THIS IS ABSOLUTELY A THING, so don't go asking me where to find any of these sites that aren't real to find free yet usually choppy/laggy streams that may or may not infect your computer with malware that you'll need three days to get rid of. Because these sites don't exist. Maybe)
Pros Vs. Joes
Big props to Arik who unintentionally persuaded me into looking into the most non-traditional hockey markets I could think of to see if any such leagues had any means, any hint at all of a live streaming option for their scarcely viewed contests. Much to my shock and chagrin, the Liga Mexicana Elite, a semi professional Mexican Hockey League, does NOT offer any live broadcasts of their games. Or at least I don't think they do, as it's hard to find any information on the availability of such sources when THEY DO NOT EVEN HAVE THEIR OWN WEBSITE. I cannot begin to describe the anguish I feel around the sad reality that is my inability to watch my beloved Zapotec Totems take on, you know, their deeply rooted rivals from other Mexican communities or something.
However, some of the non-NHL power players, the Little Brother Leagues, or, if you will, the We Try To Steal Your Top Talent And Vice Versa Leagues, have begun to make ridiculously smooth transitions to ween you off of your NHL diet and onto your new obsession with the Hakan Loob managed Färjestad BK (which you may or may not be able to actually watch, so stay tuned for that one)
Spoiler alert: You can't watch Färjestad BK play online. This heeds back to that frustration I spoke of earlier, doesn't it?
My first foray out into the internet wilderness brought me to Wikipedia, naturally, where I did a search for a list of professional, semi-professional, and basically just ALL hockey leagues across this great, gigantic orb we all live in (don't be startin' no Flat Earth Society propaganda debates all up in my hockey blog).
Not really being one into, like, work or anything, I decided pretty much right off the bat that I was going to have to pare down this list. Substantially. Therefore, lamentably, if you're interested in finding live broadcasts for the Bulgarian Hockey League, you are mostly on your own. (However if you DO find anything, hook a brother up)
With that in mind though, I did peruse the sites and affiliates of a lot of what I would call "You Gotta Be Kidding Me, This Exists?!?!?!" Leagues, and you'd be surprised at what countries have some poor crew of cameramen out there, futilely trying to film a game they likely have no idea how to play in the first place and can't keep up with.
The KHL is undoubtedly doing this the best. No other puck federation was better poised for an influx of fan viewership in the event of a lockout than the NHL's evil Russian rivals. They knew they were going to take on a barrage of North American talent, and they in turn knew that was going to correspond into bigger fan viewership and outside curiosity.
In fact, the reason I felt obliged to write this piece was because of how innovative the KHL has been (or maybe already was) in light of the lockout. They have created their own YouTube channel, and they have been using this platform to stream games live (I didn't know that was a thing either). Yes, the channel is all in Russian, so finding the appropriate links can be a challenge. However, if you use Google Chrome (and in this day and age, really, how are you not by now?) they take care of that whole messy translation thing for you right in your browser, so I don't want to hear any language complaints! Furthermore, being that it's on YouTube, the whole thing is free, so cheapskates rejoice, you're out of excuses
I was sitting home one late Saturday morning two weeks ago, and found myself transfixed in front of my laptop, gaping lazily at the Avangard Omsk - HC Dynamo Moscow broadcast. Partly because of the whole live YouTube thing, but also because Avangard is the current home club of (maybe) future Flames netminder Karri Ramo, and it was cool to watch a prospect in a venue that isn't a (insert team name here) vs. the Hitmen match for once. (That is not by any means a knock on the Hitmen or the WHL in general, I fully support the team and the league. It is incredible hockey, and you are doing yourself a disservice by not watching some future NHL stars before the million dollar contracts kick in) The hockey wasn't bad either, although it's a very visible step down from the standard of play we're used to seeing in the NHL. However I'm all for issuing it a passing grade, considering the NHL is off willfully doing that arrogant thing that they didn't need to do and I try not to talk about as it makes my heart rate climb just a little too high.
Of course closer to home, we'll be blessed with some very high quality AHL action, and considering maybe some of you lazy slobs are still going to be sleeping in on your precious little Saturdays, perhaps games in prime time are going to be more your speed. During the last lockout, Sportsnet had a penchant for airing AHL games once or twice a week, although that probably mostly meant, much like Hockey Night In Canada and the rest of the national sports landscape, that you were force fed a steady dose of Toronto, or in this case their then farm team, the St. John's Maple Leafs. This meant you were inundated constantly with the likes of Kyle Wellwood, Harold Druken, and Mikael Tellqvist, as well as about 30 guys who would go on to play for the Calgary Flames because Darryl Sutter was one of the drunkest General Managers anyone can ever recall seeing.
I would imagine that, should Sportsnet (or TSN or The Score for that matter, though they lack the regional coverage to do so) take on the brunt of the AHL coverage once again, there's a good chance we in the New West can see our fair share of our Baby Flames in Abbotsford. I'll admit I was still living out East during the last lockout, so I don't know what Sportsnet West aired during those days. Still probably the Leafs, but times do change.
But just in case they don't play any Heat games, or any other AHL teams that for some reason you're interested in seeing, or, in the throes of an NHL rage blackout, you cancelled your cable package and no longer have Sportsnet, there is still a glimmer of hope. For you to watch AHL hockey, not for the well being of your delicate psyche.
NeuLion, an internet TV provider (I'm guessing), has an affiliation with the American League, and this allows you to watch AHL games at AHL Live. I think a season pass might be a scoche pricey, in the range of around two or three hundred dollars for the season, but allegedly you can order single games for something reasonable like $7. Maybe if one of you fine Citizens has used this service in the past, you'd be a doll and confirm this for me?
NeuLion also offers similar platforms for the WHL and OHL (and the Professional Bowlers Association!), but oddly not for the QMJHL, so sorry to you, Chicoutimi fans. NeuLion also, for inexplicable reasons, has a partnership with the Central Hockey League, so if you're into hockey that focuses on the dashed hopes and dreams of one time potential NHLers who took the wrong path, this channel is for you.
That's the one caveat I'll offer when it comes to semi-pro hockey: Relative to the NHL or even major junior, it's not very good. It's not BAD by any means, but while leagues like the ECHL are recognizable to most hockey fans, the quality of play coupled with the degree to which some communities are not widely known do not make these leagues very attractive to star quality (not being paid in NHL dollars is a big concern too). Certainly there's a lot of talent, and players like Michael Ryder and Alex Burrows managed to claw their way up to the pros from the depths of these types of leagues, but guys like that are few and far between. A lot of times it can be like MMA on ice, which I'll admit entices me a little bit, but not when you realize to see it, you're going to have to shell out for it.
Because obviously most networks won't deign to air these almost professional squads, because there's no star quality, and who knows just where the hell Gwinnett is anyway? (Georgia, apparently) But their is, against all odds, followings for these leagues, and the internet machine has found a way to bring it to the masses. It just comes at a price.
Nevertheless, if you want to see, along with the aforementioned CHL, live ECHL hockey, or even the Southern Professional Hockey League (featuring the President's Cup Champion Columbus Cottonmouths. Bet you never thought you'd hear the words Columbus and champion in the same sentence. Well fear not, it's not even the same Columbus), we've got you covered. America One Sports offers season passes and (hopefully) just game day streaming for both of these leagues, while LiveSportsVideo offers you both Federal League play and a truly terrible website design. Happy streaming!
Easy There, College Boy
I'll admit, when it came to junior/amateur/college hockey, that's when I started to get lazy. There are scores of junior leagues across the continent (and the world, but more on that later), and even the different conferences across the NCAA seem to have different rules and regulations when it comes to live coverage of their games.
I found you some resources, however, so stop crying, you sad, sad little children.
Luckily, here in Canada we are a bit hockey starved at the best of times, so junior hockey is pretty much as readily available as NHL hockey. Major Junior games across the country are broadcast on various local access stations (your Shaw TV's or their Bell and Rogers' equivalents), not to mention the above NeuLion links (again, with the exaction that it's a big middle finger to QMJHL fans)
However, it's not as convenient for the NCAA. Let's envision that you, a tuned in Calgary Flames fan, want to use the afforded opportunity of an NHL lockout to spend more of your allotted hockey focus on Providence College, knowing that Flames prospects Mark Jankowski and Jon Gillies are both plying their trade at that particular institution. Well guess what, bozo, you're up that infamous creek where it seems no one ever has a paddle. Providence doesn't even offer radio broadcasts of their games, let alone some kind of fancy talking picture format.
The different conferences across the NCAA (and by extension the teams within the conferences) seem to abide by their own rules when it comes to coverage. There does not seem to be any kind of cross association partnership with any one entity, hence why Providence is in the dark, but it couldn't be easier to tune in to watch your Alaska Anchorage SeaWolves (Curtis Glencross' old stomping grounds, no less!)
I've found, if you're interested in live NCAA (and it's extremely high level hockey, so you should be) that Hockey Webcasts is a pretty invaluable resource. If you've got a team, they'll show you if and how you can watch it as it happens. And they don't blather on about nothing like I do.
One potentially terrific service that I came across in my travels was Fast Hockey. Fast Hockey markets themselves as both a live streaming solution for hockey fans, but also as a resource for players, coaches, scouts, etc. FH offers live streaming, archived games, and even DVDs of hours upon hours of amateur hockey, including the AJHL, BCHL, CCHL, EJHL, Maritime League, and well basically any junior league across Canada that more or less feeds the coffers of Major Junior Hockey in this country. By the same token, you can obtain access to the USHL, ECAC, and the like that are the stepping stones for future stars trying to work their way into NCAA programs. And if that wasn't all, there is access to both Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, but I'm not sure what that gets you. Why don't you sign up and see? Why does ol' Loober have to do everything for you ungrateful fools?
Just because I felt bad about calling you fools, I went ahead and created an account, just to see what's up. Like NeuLion, you can pay to stream individual games (through credits, which costs $7.99 per, and ask me if I don't think that's just a bit costly). However the more you buy, the more you save (if you buy 50 credits, they only cost $5.99 each), and you have the option to buy an All Access Pass for $699.
Needless to say, DON'T BUY THE ALL ACCESS PASS.
In spite of that, it seems like a commendable project, and it's a nice added value that it doubles as a scouting and coaching tool, if you're recruiting a team or just kind of into that thing to begin with. The quality of the video is entirely dependent on the in house video capabilities in each rink, so that tends to vary a bit, but they're mostly decent feeds. So try that.
Hockey: A Global Phenomenon
This leaves us with the rest of the world. Again, I cannot stress enough how awesome the KHL YouTube channel is, so I'm going to reiterate it here: Go watch it. Just for the chance to watch Gino Malkin break probably almost every offensive record there is to be broken.
And it's a good thing that's available, because for a continent that is just so far ahead with internet infrastructures, there seems to be no other viable option for watching European league hockey over the internet. I tried finding service for the SM-Liiga, the SEL, Swiss National League, and the Czech and Slovak Extraligas, coming away with nothing except hard lessons in European languages. In fact, the Swiss league had a couple of channels available for streaming, but you need to actually be in Switzerland for it to work (or go through a Swiss proxy, but again, I can neither CONFIRM nor deny the existence of such arguably illegal services)
Your best bet, and it sounds funny but it's true, is the Spengler Cup in January. Sportsnet usually has you covered on that one as well. If you've never seen it before, it's because it tends to be held at the same time as the World Juniors, and that tournament rightfully grabs most of our focus. But much like 2005, Joe Thornton, Rick Nash, and newcomer Logan Couture are all suiting up for HC Davos, so guess who I'm putting my money on to win the whole thing? (Hint: It's not Zug)
The major European leagues and their lack of availability outside of their own regions becomes even more baffling when we visit the last non-NHL alternative we're going to explore on our adventure today, which you may have guessed by now if you read the VERY FIRST LINE of this article: we're going to Australia.
That's right, The Australian Ice Hockey League, home to what I likely unfairly assume must be amongst the worst professional hockey ever witnessed, does indeed allow you, the discerning North American (or whever you're reading this from. If that happens to be Australia, no hard feelings on that worst pro hockey part) to witness the massacre unfold live, right in front of you. I do know the odd hockey fan who does actually watch these games, and they say the hockey is passable, but I'm of the opinion that you need to be REALLY desperate for a hockey game to stoop this far out of your comfort zone. That being said, if the game are broadcast by play by play guys with Australian accents, I think you have no choice but to listen in.
I don't think I need to tell you that I hope this stupid and unnecessary labour unrest between the NHL and NHLPA subsides quicker than humanly possible. If you're reading this blog, chances are you, like me, have significantly more emotional investments into it than you do the German DEL. It's just comforting to know that if we ever really need even a brief respite from whatever it is we're usually supposed to be doing when we're not watching hockey, through only slightly more work than just browsing through the program guide on our televisions we should be able to find a game somewhere.
I know throughout this whole piece, I failed to mention any links to coverage for Women's hockey and also sledge hockey, two avenues of the game I was genuinely interested in pursuing, but live coverage for these sports outside of an Olympics/World Championship setting just doesn't exist. Which is too bad, and I would implore anyone with more ambition than myself to explore the peripherals surrounding the start up of such endeavors.
It's also obviously worth mentioning that there is that whole unknown, scarcely talked about World Junior Hockey Tournament coming up, but who would ever be interested in the best young talents from across the world fiercely defending their national flag while simultaneously showcasing their skills to brokers possibly responsible for the growth and fostering of said talents into a fruitful professional career? Pffft, not me.
I'm going to be busy watching the Belfast Giants.