International Hockey League (1945–2001)

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International Hockey League
International Hockey League (1945–2001) logo.png
SportIce hockey
Founded1945
Countries United States
 Canada
Ceased2001
Most titlesCincinnati Mohawks (5)
 
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International Hockey League
International Hockey League (1945–2001) logo.png
SportIce hockey
Founded1945
Countries United States
 Canada
Ceased2001
Most titlesCincinnati Mohawks (5)

The International Hockey League (IHL) was a minor professional ice hockey league in the United States and Canada that operated from 1945 to 2001. The IHL served as the National Hockey League's alternate farm system to the American Hockey League (AHL). After 56 years of operation, financial instability led to the league's demise. Six surviving teams merged into the AHL in 2001.

History[edit]

Early years[edit]

The IHL was formed in December 1945 and initially consisted of four cross-border teams in Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. In 1947, a team from Toledo, Ohio joined the league, and the following year the IHL expanded significantly, with teams in four additional U.S. cities. The expansion did not take hold, and for 1949–50, the league was back down to teams in Detroit and Windsor as well as two nearby Canadian cities, Sarnia, Ontario and Chatham, Ontario. Windsor dropped out in 1950, and expansion into the U.S. began again, with Toledo rejoining the league and new teams in Grand Rapids, Michigan (1950), Troy, Ohio, (1951), Cincinnati (1952), Fort Wayne, Indiana (1952), and Milwaukee (1952). At the same time, the last Canadian team left the league in 1952, when the Chatham Maroons pulled out. Three new U.S. cities were added in 1953. The league would expand and shrink between five and nine teams through the 1950s, with another major expansion in 1959. In the 1962–63 season, the IHL played an interlocking schedule with the NHL-owned Eastern Professional Hockey League, which itself folded after its 1963 season. After 11 seasons as a strictly U.S.-based league, the IHL admitted two Canadian teams in 1963, with the Windsor Bulldogs and the return of the Chatham Maroons. Both teams dropped out after one season, however, and the league would not have a Canadian team again until 1996.

Major market expansion[edit]

Starting in the late 1960s, the IHL's quality of play significantly improved. By the mid-1970s it was on par with the American Hockey League (AHL), the longtime top feeder league for the National Hockey League. Many IHL teams became the top farm teams of NHL teams. In 1984, the league swallowed up many surviving members of the Central Hockey League, which had ceased operations.

Beginning in the late 1980s, the IHL began an expansion into major markets such as Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis – Saint Paul, Orlando, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, and San Francisco. Many of these were markets that had been served by the defunct World Hockey Association or abandoned by the NHL, but the IHL also placed teams in markets that already had NHL teams, such as Chicago, Detroit, and Long Beach (near Los Angeles). In the mid-1990s, the IHL moved its Atlanta and Minneapolis–Saint Paul franchises to Quebec City and Winnipeg respectively, restoring the league's Canadian presence and filling the void left by the departure of the NHL's Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets.

As the league expanded into larger markets, many of the smaller-market teams (such as Fort Wayne and Kalamazoo) fell away, joining lower-level leagues.

Decline and collapse[edit]

The IHL's expansion into NHL markets put a strain on relationships between the leagues. There was some speculation that the IHL was intending to compete directly with the NHL, especially when a lock-out in 1994 threatened to wipe out the NHL season.[1] However, in the 1995-96 season, the IHL's "soft" salary cap was just $1.5 million,[2] while the lowest NHL team payroll that season was $11.4 million.[3]

In response, many NHL clubs shifted their affiliations to the AHL, and by 1997–98, only four of 18 IHL teams had NHL affiliations.[4] With the loss of subsidized salaries, high expansion fees (by the end the league was charging as much as $8 million US for new teams), exploding travel costs and the NHL itself moving back into some of its markets, the league's rapid expansion proved a critical strain, and it folded after the 2000-01 season.

Six IHL franchises (the Chicago Wolves, Grand Rapids Griffins, Houston Aeros, Utah Grizzlies, Milwaukee Admirals and Manitoba Moose) were admitted into the AHL as expansion teams for the 2001-02 season, and then among them, won the next three AHL Calder Cup championships. As well, the IHL's Cincinnati Cyclones were admitted back to the East Coast Hockey League, which hosted the team from 1990-1992 before they moved to the IHL. The Orlando Solar Bears (the final IHL champions) and the Kansas City Blades were not admitted into the AHL because their owner, Rich DeVos, also owned the Griffins, and could only own one AHL franchise. The league's other two teams (the Cleveland Lumberjacks & the Detroit Vipers) ceased operations with the league.

Three of the former IHL teams that moved to the AHL have since relocated, as the Utah Grizzlies moved to Cleveland, Ohio to become the Lake Erie Monsters in 2007, the Manitoba Moose moved to St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador to become the St. John's IceCaps in 2011, and most recently, the Houston Aeros have moved to Des Moines, Iowa to become the Iowa Wild. As well, three IHL franchises have been relaunched in lower-tier leagues since the IHL's demise, those being the Utah Grizzlies (formerly the Lexington Men O' War) in 2005, the expansion Orlando Solar Bears in the ECHL, and the Peoria Rivermen in the Southern Professional Hockey League. Also, the Worcester IceCats moved to Peoria, Illinois in 2005 and took the name of yet another former IHL franchise, the Peoria Rivermen, only for that franchise to be relocated to Utica, New York to become the Utica Comets.

Trophies and awards[edit]

Award nameSeasonsDescription
Turner Cup1945–2001League playoff champions.
Fred A. Huber Trophy1945–2001Regular season champions.
Commissioner's Trophy1984–2001Coach of the Year.
Leo P. Lamoureux Memorial Trophy1946–2001Top point scorer.
Known as "George H. Wilkinson Trophy" (1946-1960).
James Gatschene Memorial Trophy1946–2001MVP / Sportsmanship.
Norman R. "Bud" Poile Trophy1988–2001Playoffs MVP.
Gary F. Longman Memorial Trophy1961–2001Rookie of the Year.
Known as "Leading Rookie Award" (1961-1967).
Ken McKenzie Trophy1977–2001American-born Rookie of the Year.
Governor's Trophy1964–2001Best defenseman.
Known as "Larry D. Gordon Trophy" (1998-2001).
James Norris Memorial Trophy1955–2001Goaltenders with lowest GAA.
John Cullen Award1996–2001Comeback Player of the Year.
Known as "Comeback Player of the Year Award" (1996-1998).
Ironman Award1988–2001Durability / Longevity.
IHL Man of the Year1992–2001Outstanding community service.
Also known as "I. John Snider, II Trophy."

Franchise timelines[edit]

Founding
year
Team name(s)Years of
operation
Number of
seasons
Notes
1945Detroit Auto Club1945–19516 
1945Detroit Bright's Goodyears1945–19494 
1945Windsor Gotfredsons
Windsor Staffords
Windsor Ryan Cretes
1945–1946
1946–1948
1948–1950
5 
1945Windsor Spitfires
Windsor Hettche Spitfires
Detroit Hettche
1945–1947
1947–1949
1949–1952
7 
1946Detroit Metal Mouldings
Detroit Jerry Lynch
1946–1948
1948–1949
3 
1947Toledo Mercurys1947–1949
1950–1962
14Played in North and South divisions (1948–1949).
Played as Toledo Buckeyes (EAHL) (1949–50).
Played as Toledo-Marion Mercurys (1955–1956).
Played as Toledo-St. Louis Mercurys (1959–1960).
1948Akron Americans1948–19491 
1948Louisville Blades1948–19491Transferred to USHL in 1949.
1948Milwaukee Clarks1948–19491Transferred to EAHL in 1949.
1948Muncie Flyers1948–19491 
1949Sarnia Sailors1949–19512Transferred to OHA Sr. A in 1951.
1949Chatham Maroons1949–1952
1963–1964
4Played in OHA Sr. A (1952–1963).
1950Grand Rapids Rockets
Huntington Hornets
Louisville Rebels
1950–1956
1956–1957
1957–1960
10 
1951Troy Bruins1951–19598 
1952Cincinnati Mohawks1952–19586Transferred from AHL in 1952.
1952Fort Wayne Komets
Albany Choppers
1952–1990
1990–1991
39Original Fort Wayne Komets replaced in 1990 by relocated Flint Spirits franchise.
1952Milwaukee Chiefs1952–19542 
1953Johnstown Jets1953–19552Transferred from EAHL in 1953
Transferred to EHL in 1955.
1953Louisville Shooting Stars1953–19541 
1953Marion Barons1953–19541 
1955Indianapolis Chiefs1955–19627 
1959Milwaukee Falcons1959–19602Ceased operations November 26, 1960 during second season.
1959Denver Mavericks
Minneapolis Millers
1959
1959–1963
4Denver relocated mid-season to Minneapolis on December 3, 1959.
1959Omaha Knights1959–19634Transferred to Central Professional Hockey League in 1963.
1959St. Paul Saints1959–19634 
1960Muskegon Zephyrs
Muskegon Mohawks
Muskegon Lumberjacks
Cleveland Lumberjacks
1960–1965
1965–1984
1984–1992
1992–2001
41 
1962Port Huron Flags
Port Huron Wings
Port Huron Flags
1962–1971
1971–1974
1974-1981
19 
1963Des Moines Oak Leafs
Des Moines Capitols
1963–1972
1972–1975
12 
1963Toledo Blades
Toledo Hornets
Lansing Lancers
1963–1970
1970–1974
1974–1975
12 
1963Windsor Bulldogs1963–19641Transferred from OHA Sr. A in 1963.
1964Dayton Gems1964–1977
1979–1980
14Team on hiatus from 1977–1979.
1966Columbus Checkers
Columbus Golden Seals
Columbus Owls
Dayton Owls
Grand Rapids Owls
1966–1970
1971–1973
1973–1977
1977
1977–1980
23Franchise on hiatus from 1970–71. Dayton relocated mid-season to Grand Rapids on December 15, 1977.
1969Flint Generals
Saginaw Generals
Saginaw Hawks
1969–1985
1985–1987
1987–1989
20 
1972Saginaw Gears1972–198311 
1974Kalamazoo Wings
Michigan K-Wings
1974–1995
1995–2000
26 
1974Toledo Goaldiggers
Kansas City Blades
1974–1986
1990-2001
23 
1977Milwaukee Admirals1977–200124Transferred from USHL in 1977.
Transferred to AHL in 2001.
1982Peoria Prancers
Peoria Rivermen
San Antonio Dragons
1982–1984
1984-1996
1996–1998
16 
1984Salt Lake Golden Eagles
Detroit Vipers
1984–1994
1994–2001
17Transferred from CHL in 1984.
1984Indianapolis Checkers
Colorado Rangers
Denver Rangers
Phoenix Roadrunners
1984–1987
1987–1988
1988–1989
1989–1997
13Transferred from CHL in 1984.
1985Flint Spirits
Fort Wayne Komets
1985–1990
1990–1999
14Transferred to UHL in 1999.
1988Indianapolis Ice1988–199911Transferred to CHL in 1999.
1990San Diego Gulls
Los Angeles Ice Dogs
Long Beach Ice Dogs
1990–1995
1995–1996
1996–2000
10Transferred to WCHL in 2000.
1992Atlanta Knights
Quebec Rafales
1992–1996
1996–1998
6 
1992Cincinnati Cyclones1992–20019 
1993Las Vegas Thunder1993–19996 
1993Russian Penguins1993–19941Touring Russian team.
1994Chicago Wolves1994–20017Transferred to AHL in 2001.
1994Houston Aeros1994–20017Transferred to AHL in 2001.
1994Minnesota Moose
Manitoba Moose
1994–1996
1996–2001
7Transferred to AHL in 2001.
1994Denver Grizzlies
Utah Grizzlies
1994–1995
1995-2001
7Transferred to AHL in 2001.
1995Orlando Solar Bears1995–20016 
1995San Francisco Spiders1995–19961 
1996Grand Rapids Griffins1996–20015Transferred to AHL in 2001.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "League's founding father watches over 50th year," David Eminian, The Hockey News, January 27, 1995.
  2. ^ "Ufer trying to sell league on structured salary cap," David Eminian, The Hockey News, November 10, 1995.
  3. ^ "NHL Teams' Payrolls". Retrieved 2006-11-23. 
  4. ^ "The Modern Minors," Eric Zweig, p. 381, in Total Hockey, ed. Dan Diamond, Total Sports, 1998.

External links[edit]