Just Down the Hill: Affordable Live Hockey Close to Home
Clark Grieve, Volunteer Writer
For so many of us living in Canada, October means just one thing: the return of the NHL (in this case, a lockout-free NHL that sees the realignment of its divisions and conferences). After living in Vancouver for a few years during my education, I enjoyed having such a high caliber team right at my disposal, and it was a great incentive going to school at UBC. I could always look forward to weekend matchups, and watching games with friends became something of a ritual from the start of the season through to the playoff runs (and the inevitable tears of defeat).
Although I would say the Vancouver Canucks are definitely an organization that extends its support to the entire Northwest, there is no experience equal to seeing your team live, in person and with 18,000 other screaming fans.
It is one thing I’ve really missed during my time at UNBC in Prince George, though the tears of defeat are certainly a constant. I am contributing this week to admit that, unlike past years, I have yet to watch a single Canucks game. No, it is not because I am tired of the Stanley Cup drought. Instead, this season I have invested my free time and money closer to home, watching the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League.
Having seen NHL quality play in person before, I do have a high standard of what I will and will not watch when it comes to hockey. However, with news late in the pre-season that team Captain Troy Bourke (Drafted by Colorado Avalanche, Round Three 73rd overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft) and talented winger Zach Pochiro (Drafted by the St. Louis Blues, Round Four 112th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft) were back from NHL training camps and part of the 2013/14 roster I saw an opportunity to watch just a few of the stars soon destined for the NHL and a deep talent pool that the Cougars have developed over a few tough and disappointing seasons. Even though the Cougars have not had recent success in the Western Hockey League, they still give many people the opportunity to see future NHL talent. The most recent top draft being Brett Connelly, who was pick 6th overall by Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2010 draft.
First of all, I was surprised to discover that, with my UNBC Student Card, I qualify for a reduced ticket price at the box office. And with the games now serving alcohol in the stands, this means I can get into the game and have a beer during the first period for under $20. Although it may not equal watching the Sedins and Roberto Luongo, a Cougars game definitely fits into my limited budget at that price, and has surprisingly grown on me.
Although CN Centre may not have the unmatched amenities of Rogers Arena or the aura of Maple Leaf Gardens, it does feature better views and seating than you will be used to. With regard to the atmosphere, the faithful crowd may start out as quiet and anxious during stretches of close play at the opening minutes of a period, but they quickly come to life, as they did for the game I attended on 11 October.
Finally, the proximity to UNBC, and with buses running late on Friday evenings ,now make attending games easier than heading to the Prince George Coliseum for a Spruce Kings game. Games which start around 7:00PM and end by 9:30PM leave enough room between the end of class and the puck drop to relax, but there’s also time after the game to head downtown too.
I cannot recommend the product the Cougars are putting on the ice enough. There are sure to be a lot of goals, hits, saves, and close games throughout the 72-game season, and that is something you cannot beat unless you drive ten hours to Vancouver. Cougar games also broadcast on the radio (both home and away) for those who cannot make it out of the library in time, which is how I kept up to date during my mid-term week. For more information, check out the Cougars website (www.pgcougars.com), and I recommend visiting the official team Twitter account (@PGCougars) for updates, contests, and prizes.