Unless an AHL, American Hockey League, team exists in your town, chances are unlikely that you have any interest or care about a minor-league hockey franchise. But they're actually a vital part of the game. AHL franchises are "farm teams", or affiliates of NHL teams, where players are sent to improve their game, recover from injury, or have moved up from the lower-level ECHL. Every NHL team has an AHL affiliate, and they are extremely important for player development and building a fanbase. So we've broken down the seven best reasons why we love the AHL.
1. The games are FUN
I mean, seriously, who doesn't love seeing hockey players skate out of a giant inflatable mascot of their given team? For example, here is a video I shot of a recent game I attended in Cleveland featuring the Cleveland Monsters against the Hersey Bears.
2. AHL games provide important player development
The minor league franchises provide important player development for those who need it. Do we really expect every player to head straight to the NHL right after they are drafted? No, because that's unrealistic.
3. The cost
The AHL games are cheaper than those in the NHL. Coming from someone who has spent a majority of their budget on the Columbus Blue Jackets, having a cheaper option while still being able to support any given NHL franchise is definitely something I'll get behind.
4. The franchise names are AMAZING
The AHL franchise names are fantastic. Who can't get behind a name like the Tuscon Roadrunners? Maybe the Milwaukee Admirals? Well, if that doesn't do it for you, I'd recommend the Cleveland Monsters, the AHL affiliate of the Blue Jackets. I recently attended my first Monsters game last weekend, in which Cleveland pulled out a 5-2 victory over the Hershey Bears (the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals).
5. The level of competition is similar
There is a similar level of competition in the AHL as in the NHL. While AHL teams are not playing for the iconic Stanley Cup, there is a playoff system, in which teams face-off for the Calder Cup, which the Cleveland Monsters won in 2016.
6. Seeing future NHL prospects
Seeing prospects of a favorite NHL franchise is fascinating. As a diehard hockey fan, being able to watch the future of the team and see their skills first hand instead of only on Twitter is a treat for someone like me, just like this Artemi Panarin gif is a treat to humanity.
7. Hockey is honestly the best
I just love all hockey. For someone who simply has a love of the game, being able to experience a game that you have such a strong passion for, regardless of the level of game being watched, is something that I always enjoy beyond words.