The National Hockey League lockout, however long it might last, will separate the true hockey fans from the NHL fans.
Someone who is a connoisseur of a sport can appreciate it at any level. That's not to say there's anything wrong with preferring one incarnation of game over another. Didn't Lou Reed's Coney Island Baby ("just remember different people have peculiar tastes") make the world safe to prefer college basketball to the NBA, or like the CFL more than NFL? Conversely, there's nothing wrong with wanting to see a sport played by the most highly skilled and highly compensated practitioners in the world, even it means putting up with lockouts, media saturation, Stanley Cup final games in June and Gary Bettman.
The absence of big-league hockey for the next few weeks, perhaps months, might cause a scramble for a shinny fix. The NHL is more accessible than junior hockey. It is easier to find on TV. It is easier to find out who are the good and bad guys. But it's not here right now. To help with the coping, Buzzing The Net is glad to offer a guide to some major junior teams one ought to considering supporting in the interim.
Sure, you could go ahead and back one of the big teams such as the Kitchener Rangers, London Knights, Vancouver Giants or Quebec Remparts. They can always use more fans, too. It also makes perfect sense to pick a team based on where your favourite NHL team's draft picks are playing. However, if you want to stretch, cast the net out a little wider.
Sudbury Wolves (OHL) — Why the Wolves? You have to like a crest that has blood dripping of the wolf's fangs — that is the only red used in the team's timeless blue, silver and white colour scheme. Sudbury is projected to have a good season. Their best player, Josh Leivo, is a draft choice of the Toronto Maple Leafs and his team will play several games in the vicinity of the GTA since the Wolves' division includes Barrie, Brampton, Mississauga and Niagara (St. Catharines).
Supporting the Wolves is another way to be at one with our rugged northern terrain without setting foot in it. You know that "town in north Ontario" Neil Young sang about in Helpless? It's only a hour north of Toronto. Pull on the Wolves jersey and no one will take you for a poseur.
Brampton Battalion (OHL) — Want a version of Major League, only with teenagers, ice and without busting a gut before Charlie Sheen even starts talking? Then support the Troops. Brampton is headed into the season with a good idea of how strong a team it will have, but no firm idea of where it will play next season. Perfect for fans of, well, the Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes; like the Preds, Brampton has also had the same coach, Stan Butler, for its entire history.
Owen Sound Attack (OHL) — Wednesday and Saturday are probably going to be the toughest nights for NHL withdrawal, since TSN and CBC typically have doubleheaders. Those also happen to be the Attack's usual home-game nights, so you will be more likely to come across one of their games if OHL games are on your cable package. Owen Sound is appealing because, as a team based in a city of 22,000 competing against Kitchener, London and the Windsor Spitfires, they are the Ontario League's answer to the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Rays and any number of NCAA tournament underdogs. The Attack won the OHL title two seasons ago, prompting an impromptu late-night victory parade thorugh the town and have darkhorse potential this season. The Attack are ideal for fans of the Buffalo Sabres. Star centre Daniel Catenacci is a Sabres pick, plus it's an easy switch to go for another small-market team.
The Belleville Bulls also have the Wednesday/Saturday game night sked. Plus goalie Malcolm Subban (Boston Bruins) and centre Brendan Gaunce (Vancouver Canucks) are first-rounders of big-market NHL teams. However, Owen Sound has a louder building.
Plymouth Whalers (OHL) — Like a certain NHL team in the Detroit area, the Whalers never, ever seem to miss the playoffs. Long-time coach and general manager Mike Vellucci mints competitive teams season after season. But the Whalers sometimes to seem to struggle to get traction in a competitive mid-Michigan sports market which has offers every form of high-level hockey. Now is the time. Four Whalers — the Ottawa Senators' Stefan Noesen, New York Rangers' J.T. Miller, Washington Capitals' Tom Wilson and Anaheim Ducks' Rickard Rakell — are NHL first-rounders. That means the Whalers will be so hosed if NHL camps open while junior hockey is in full swing, so there's the empathy card.
Habs pick Tim Bozon (The Canadian Press)Kamloops Blazers (WHL) — It's a resurgent franchise! The Blazers' playoff run last season snapped a drought of failing to win a playoff series that stretched back to 1999. Like Chicoutimi, they have an exciting mid-round Montreal draft pick, winger Tim Bozon, and they were perhaps the Dub's best traditional uniform. Kamloops won three Memorial Cups in the 1990s, during which time Jarome Iginla played for the B.C. team, so there's that for Calgary Flames fans.
Victoria Royals (WHL) — The Royals are ideal rooting fodder for Winnipeg Jets fans; both came into being in 2011 when an existing franchise was purchased and moved to a city which had lost its original team. The Royals are not the strongest team, but here's a reason to visit one of Canada's most beautiful cities. Sabres choice Logan Nelson is one of six Americans on the Royals.
Portland Winterhawks (WHL) — The 'Hawks are typically a high-scoring, fun-to-watch bunch, plus there's a great storyline with the fact their top scorer, St. Louis Blues prospect Ty Rattie, and stud defenceman, Seth Jones, will be pitted against each other when they join Team Canada and Team USA at the world junior championship. It's like Team Edward vs. Team Jacob within one fanbase; I've been assured you know what that means.
Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL) — The mainlanders in Halifax have phenom Nathan MacKinnon, so why not support their island rivals? The Screaming Eagles are a potential up and coming team, so consider cheering for them to be an investment in case the junior-following habit takes. Forward William Carrier is also highly touted for next season's draft after tallying 70 points last season.
Habs pick Charles Hudon (The Canadian Press)Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL) — Unique 'blueberry' jerseys, a moniker which has no literal English translation and a honest-to-goodness Quebecer chosen by the Montreal Canadiens in centre Charles Hudon? The Sags have all three, notwithstanding that Hudon is currently injured (but hey, this could drag on for a while).
Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) — On second thought, front-run and fall in with the Mooseheads. Nathan MacKinnon is really, really, ridiculously good. Halifax is also everyone's favourite to win the Quebec League. Since so many Maritimers cheer for Boston-area teams, perhaps some New Englanders should look up at Halifax, since the fans of Red Sox Celtics Bruins Patriots nation have no shame about bandwagon-jumping.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.