With no guarantee that the NHL season will start on-time, the American Hockey League may provide local fans with one of the few outlets for live professional hockey in the months ahead.
On Friday, the AHL released the complete schedule for its 77th campaign with each of the leagues 30 teams playing 76 games (38 at home; 38 on the road).
The Washington Capitals top minor league affiliate, the Hershey Bears, open the season with road games in Syracuse (Sat. Oct. 13) and Binghamton (Fri. Oct. 19) before the Home Opener at Giant Center against Rochester (Sat. Oct. 20).
In May the Capitals and Bears announced a renewal in their affiliation through the 2013-14 season. The clubs have been affiliated in each of the last seven years, with the Bears making the playoffs each season and winning three Calder Cups along the way in 2006, 2009 and 2010.
Should the start of the NHL season de delayed, hockey fans in the D.C. area may want to mark their calendars. Beginning with the Oct. 20 Home Opener, the Bears will play back-to-back weekend home games in three out four weeks in October and November (Oct.20-21, Nov. 10-11 and Nov. 17-18).
Regardless of when the NHL season may begin, the Bears will visit D.C. for the first time since 1979 when they take on the Norfolk Admirals at Verizon Center (Thurs. Dec. 6).
Five other NHL arenas are expected to host AHL games this season including Montreals Bell Centre, Philadelphias Wells Fargo Center, Raleighs PNC Arena, St. Pauls Xcel Energy Center and Torontos Air Canada Center.
Detroit will also host an AHL game this season when the Red Wings top minor league affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins take on the Toronto Marlies at Comerica Park as part of the Hockeytown Winter Festival leading up to the 2013 NHL Winter Classic.
The game at Comerica Park will be one of two outdoor games in the AHL with the other featuring the Bears. The Bears will host the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in the Capital BlueCross AHL Outdoor Classic at Hershey Park Stadium, Sunday January 20, 2013.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said that if a new collective bargaining agreement is not in place by Sept. 15 the NHL will have its second work stoppage in eight years.
As was the case during the 1994-95 and 2004-05 lockouts, NHL players who are still on their entry level contracts would be eligible to play in the AHL. Three Capitals fall under this category in Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson and Dmitry Orlov.
If there is an NHL lockout, would your interest in the AHL change? Would you attend an AHL game to get your live hockey fix? Use the comment section below to discuss.