Major plus: Why minor league hockey is great night of entertainment

12/15/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

It's safe to say I'm a die hard hockey fan. I'm a Pittsburgh Penguins season ticket holder. I recorded and watched every game played in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. I sacrifice sleep every spring to stay up and watch the Western Conference playoff games, even when those games go to 3 overtimes, which equals 2am on the East Coast. So yeah, I love hockey. But the past two seasons of the NHL has made it hard for even us die hards to enjoy hockey.
So recently I took a trip to Wheeling, West Virginia to take in an ECHL game. For those not familiar with the former East Coast Hockey League, it's the equivalent to Class AA baseball. Wheeling is the home of the Nailers, who are the Penguins "AA" farm team. And I have to say, minor league hockey brings back the fun of going to a game live and in person.
First of all, the game I went to featured 8 goals scored, which is practically unheard of in today's NHL. Not to mention the two in game fights, which were the same number of fights the Penguins have had total this season. Of course, fighting is frowned upon in the NHL anymore (it seems goal scoring is too), but there are a lot of other things that made the experience great as well.

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Fun promotions are a big part of minor league hockey. The night I went was meet the Hanson Brothers, who's fame from the movie Slap Shot will never die amongst hockey fans worldwide. Google "best minor league hockey promo nights" and you'll find an array of crazy themed events designed to draw fans to the games. That uniqueness is part of the beauty of minor league hockey that you won't find in the professional ranks, which in Pittsburgh at least, has become a stuffy, corporate environment on game nights.
Of course another great thing about minor league hockey, at least for those of us over the age of 21, is cheap beer. It's funny how the same sized cup of the same brand of brew costs less than half as much at a minor league game than it does for an NHL game. It's not just beer you can get on the cheap either. You can actually take a family of four, get hot dogs, nachos, drinks and a souvenir (if it wasn't a give away night already), and not have to worry about taking out a second mortgage on your house to pay for it.
But the best thing in my opinion is just the overall atmosphere. The fans are in to the games. You're close to the action in a smaller arena. The players are accessible for autographs after the games. And it's just fun. It's fun to be there. It's fun to be a fan and cheer. It's fun to just soak in the experience. Yeah, the skill level isn't as high. And the game is noticeably slower than the NHL version. But the fact that it's fun, is the most important thing.
And as a hockey fan, I long for the day when watching the NHL or attending a Penguins game will be as much fun as it used to be.

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