Fans can still get their hockey fix in spite of the lockout

The NHL won't be playing this season, but there are two great local options to get your hockey fix.

There will be no NHL this hockey season.

Let the wailing commence.

That’s right—as Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr stare each other down across the bargaining table, there is a public relations battle going on, as the league and the players association point fingers and lay the blame.

This will be the third lockout in Bettman’s 20-year tenure as commissioner of the NHL, which, to me, is a symptom of the growing problems owners face as overhead costs rise and player salaries skyrocket.

However, you can’t blame the players for wanting a fair share of the pie. Yes, owners take all the financial risks, but these players are the best in the world and they spend their youth chasing a dream of playing professionally that, for many, never materializes.

The owners got what they wanted last  time—a salary cap—but that didn’t stop general managers from finding loopholes. Add the ridiculous contracts of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, all of whom signed for $100 million over a dozen years or so.

The NHL complains about rising salaries, yet owners agree to those kind of contracts.

Really?

I am a hockey fan. I love the game, and I love watching the game.

But I have no interest in seeing two sides negotiate through the media, telling everyone how much they’d love to be playing when they’re not even talking to each other.

I’d rather watch Ryan Nugent-Hopkins streak down the ice and score, or Dustin Brown crush someone in an open-ice hit, or Cory Schneider make a highlight reel save.

But that’s likely not happening this year.

However, Kootenay fans, all hope of enjoying hockey is not lost.

It may not be professional hockey, but it’s close and it’s live.

Cranbrook is one of the smallest markets in the CHL and lucky to have a WHL team. The Kootenay Ice have been incredibly successful since relocating from Edmonton in 1998, making into every single postseason and capturing three league championships and a Memorial Cup.

There are teams that are twice as old in the WHL without either accomplishments to their names.

The Kimberley Dynamiters of the KIJHL have a rich history in the region, having existed as an organization for over 80 years.

The Nitros, former world champions from many years ago, are currently coached by a former NHL player and feature a few hometown heroes on the roster.

I guarantee these young men love nothing more than playing the game they love in front of a raucous crowd chanting their names and exploding as one when the puck crosses the goal line and ricochets off the twine.

My brother played four years of junior hockey, mainly with the Fernie Ghostriders, and I got to see a number of guys develop into better players and move up to higher tiers.

Drayson Bowman, a left-wing sniper, spent his rookie year with the Dynamiters in 2004/05, then graduated to the WHL with the Spokane Chiefs.

After a four-year career in major-junior hockey, he moved into professional hockey with the AHL and the NHL as he is in the Carolina Hurricanes’ system.

Jace Coyle, a Cranbrook kid, spent his rookie year with the Ghostriders, then went to the Chiefs and the Medicine Hat Tigers for few years before playing his first pro year in the AHL with the Texas Stars last season.

I enjoy WHL and KIJHL hockey, because it’s raw. You can really tell the difference between the guys who are driven and committed to reaching higher levels against the guys who are destined to age out to rejoin the real world.

It may not be professional hockey, but players at all levels appreciate fan support, so instead of watching a Calgary Flames game that isn’t going to happen this season, head down to Western Financial Place and cheer on the Kootenay Ice, or take a trip down to the Civic Centre in Kimberley and throw your allegiance behind the Nitros.

The NHL and the NHLPA have a long way to go before reaching a deal as both sides are far apart from an ideological standpoint. But hockey is still alive and well in the Kootenays and fans just need to get off their duffs and down to the arena to get their fix.