Varsity Arena, the home of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues (OUA)

GTA offers quality hockey viewing

With NHL locked out, Toronto area provides alternatives

As the month of October dawns, the hockey world stares into a potentially lengthy National Hockey League lockout.

The Maple Leafs are the beating heart of the majority of fans for sports in the Greater Toronto Area, and without the Blue and White it may seem to some as though the earth might stop spinning.

Yet with a little digging numerous venues of hockey excitement can be found in the Big Smoke as hockey life in Toronto thrives beyond the confines of the Air Canada Centre.

Here are some ideas of where to find some great hockey in the GTA:

Toronto Marlies (AHL)

This is the most obvious source as they are the top affiliates of the Maple Leafs.

Coming off an appearance in the Calder Cup final, head coach Dallas Eakins’s team will be an exciting group to watch with the NHL-experienced group of Ben Scrivens in net, Jake Gardiner and Paul Ranger on defence, and Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne up front.

NHL stars such as Jeff Skinner and Jordan Eberle will be suiting up in the league for their respective teams as well, so the American Hockey League will certainly be worth the price of admission this year.

Ricoh Coliseum, on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition, is a great place to watch a game and is affordable a well.

Ontario Hockey League

For those willing to travel a little bit, the OHL is a fast and exciting brand of hockey that showcases a lot of the talent that will make up the NHL in future years.

Mississauga’s Hershey Centre and Brampton’s Powerade Centre hold the Steelheads and Battalion, respectively.

The Mississauga club is captained by Maple Leafs first-round pick Stuart Percy, a highly skilled two-way defender that had a taste of AHL hockey with the Marlies last season.

Oshawa is the home of the Generals, who play in the six-year-old General Motors Centre in downtown Oshawa. Head coach D.J. Smith’s team is expected to be one of the premier squads in the OHL’s Eastern Conference, lead by Maple Leafs first rounder Tyler Biggs, and other NHL-drafted players such as Boone Jenner and Lucas Lessio.

Ontario University Athletics

University hockey has long been considered the sport’s best-kept secret, and with the increased cooperation between Canadian Interuniversity Sport and the Canadian Hockey League, the quality keeps rising.

The York University Lions finished a surprising fourth in the OUA’s West Division last season, and have a talented core that includes two former professionals, and a handful of major junior graduates. They can be seen at Canlan Ice Sports on York’s Keele Campus.

Ryerson now plays out of a renovated Maple Leaf Gardens and has a young, up-and-coming squad.

Meanwhile, the 86-year-old Varsity Arena on the campus of the University of Toronto offers the viewer a sense of history while watching a highly competitive Varsity Blues team.

A few others

The Tier II Junior ‘A’ Ontario Junior Hockey League consists of 16-20-year-olds that are either affiliated with OHL teams, or are not playing in the quasi-professional major junior ranks with the goal of playing college hockey in the United States.

Current NHL stars such as Steven Stamkos and John Tavares played in the minor hockey ranks of the GTHL, where storied clubs like the Toronto Marlboros play at Etobicoke Ice Sports, and the Markham Waxers at Markham Centennial Arena.