If you’ve started planning your trip to the States (or Canada) from Australia, chances are you’ve scoured the internet to see when your favourite NBA and NFL teams are playing. It’s sometimes easy to forget about the other major winter code that’ll be in full swing for your time in the States – ice hockey.
From big hits to fights, power plays to spectacular goals and everything in between, an evening at the NHL is one of the best things you can add to your trip itinerary.
If there’s one piece of advice we can give you above everything else, it’s that television doesn’t do this sport justice. Simply, the NHL needs to be seen live, and you’ll likely walk out of the arena as a fan for life.
Here’s my pitch for going to an NHL game:
Top five reasons to go to an NHL game
1. The atmosphere will blow you away
No disrespect to the NBA, which is a wonderful spectator sport in its own right, but NHL teams simply don’t need to prompt the crowd to chant, or pump bassy tunes during play. The game itself is so engrossing that noise levels are constantly amped. Couple that with how bananas the fans go after a goal (as, after all, they may only see one or two a game) and a night out at the hockey is one of the best experiences you’ll have.
2. The athleticism and skill of the players
It’s challenging enough to simply strap on some skates and stay balanced on the ice, but pro hockey players are really out on the ice sprint-skating forwards, backwards, side-to-side, and turning on a dime. Add in the fact they have to control a puck the size of an English muffin and you’ll walk away with an incredible amount of respect for the men on the ice.
3. Cheap tickets can be really cheap
Apologies in advance if you have plans to watch a game of hockey in Toronto, where even the cheap seats can command upwards of US$300, but it’s not unheard of to pay more for your beer than a seat at some NHL games in small market cities. Teams which failed to make playoffs the year before can also have really cheap seats available in the days or hours before a game, so keep an eye out for a bargain on Sports Where I Am!
4. The goal horn and songs
This might sound odd, but each franchise has its own unique goal horn and then song which it plays after they score (no, seriously, watch the video!). From pop and rock bangers to electronica, each team and its fans have a unique way of celebrating a goal, so make sure you’re ready. Special mention to the Nashville fans who add their own little post-goal tune into the mix…
5. Three-on-three overtime
It’s as hectic as it sounds – if the teams are tied after three periods of play, they’ll play a five-minute period of overtime with just three players and a goalie on the ice for each team. What does that mean? Lightning fast end-to-end action which is as nerve-wracking as it is exciting. And if the teams can’t be split after OT? A riveting shootout.
Here’s five teams you can get behind right away (and why)
Boston sports fans get a bad rap, but that’s only because they’re hated by every other fan base. If you plan on cheering for the Bruins, you’ll love the gruff Boston atmosphere at the TD Garden, while niggly players like Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy will please the palate instead of leaving a sour taste in your mouth. They were also last season’s runner up in the Stanley Cup Finals, so you know you’ll see some quality hockey (and probably a win!)
Best time to see them: The five home game stand between Nov. 29 and Dec. 7
Western swing1: March 18, 19, 21
Tampa Bay Lightning
Last year Tampa Bay produced one of the best regular seasons in recent memory, but were swept from the playoffs in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s fair to say they’ll be on the warpath for redemption, and led by Steven Stamkos and one of the league’s most dynamic players in Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning will live up to their name – they’re a pleasure to watch.
Best time to see them: The four game home stand between Dec. 12 and Dec. 19
Western swing: Jan. 29, 31, Feb. 1
If you get the chance to see the Penguins – either in Pittsburgh or somewhere else, don’t pass it up. Even if you don’t know much about hockey or the Penguins, you’ve likely heard the name Sidney Crosby – their captain and arguably the best player in the league. If he’s not scoring every game, he’s notching an assist or two, and his goal sense and hand-eye coordination will have you in disbelief. He’s not old by any stretch, but see him while he’s still at the top of his game.
Best time to see them: Four game home stand (inc. home opener) between Oct. 3 and Oct. 10
Western swing: Feb. 26, 28, 29
Toronto Maple Leafs
Hockey and Canada goes together like bacon and maple syrup. Or pancakes and maple syrup. Or… well, you get the point. Toronto’s long-suffering fans are amongst the world’s most loyal; they haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 but continue to sell out the Scotiabank Arena night after night. The only downside (as we mentioned before) is that ticket prices can make your eyes water. We think it’s worth it.
Best time to see them: Four game home stand between March 17 and March 23
Western swing: March 3, 5, 6
Vegas Golden Knights
What do you get when you combine the bright lights of Vegas, some gambling, cheap drink and ice hockey? A good night out. Heading out to the brand new T-Mobile Arena to see a hockey game is the ultimate pre-drinks party for a big night in Sin City, and the Knights have a decent product on the ice. A must-see Vegas attraction.
Best time to see them: Five game home stand between Jan. 2 and Jan. 11 (New Years, anyone?)
New York swing: Dec. 2, 3, 5
Tips for buying tickets to the NHL
- Unlike at NBA game, where some seats may have restricted views due to the ring and backboard, there are no bad seats at a hockey game. In fact, the “cheaper seats” behind the goals are often the best value as you’ll be able to see the play unfold.
- There are three periods, which means each team will shoot TWICE towards one end and just one at the other end. Make sure you research at which end your team will be shooting twice if you’re thinking of sitting up the “attacking” zone.
- Seats on the glass (or, in the first row) are MUCH cheaper than their NBA courtside equivalents, and may be worth the splurge if you want to up close to the action. They also encourage you to slap the glass to put off opponents when they get too close!
- Get to your seats early – particularly if you’re in the lower bowl – as players do give away pucks and sticks during their warmups.
- Watch a YouTube video explaining the NHL’s basics. Icing, offside, interference, minor and major penalties… it can be overwhelming, so arm yourself with a bit of knowledge before you go.
- If your favourite team is based on the east coast, it might be worth following them on their “western swing”, where they’ll face the Ducks, Kings and Sharks in the same week. It’s the perfect way to break up your trip if you’re transiting through LA or San Francisco.