- International Hockey League (1945–2001)
Infobox Sports league
title = International Hockey League
pixels = 161px
founded = 1945
country = USA
Toledo Blades/ Toledo Goaldiggers(6)
folded = 2001The International Hockey League (IHL) was a minor
professional ice hockeyleague in the United Statesand Canadafrom 1945 to 2001. The IHL served as the National Hockey League's alternate farm system to the American Hockey League. After 56 years of operation, financial instability would lead to the league's demise. Six surviving teams would merge into the American Hockey League in 2001.
The IHL was formed in December 1945 and initially consisted of four cross-border teams in
Detroitand Windsor, Ontario. In 1947, a team from Toledo, Ohiojoined the league, and the following year the IHL expanded significantly, with teams in four additional U.S. cities. The expansion didn't take hold, and for 1949-50, the league was back down to teams in Detroit and Windsor, and two nearby Canadian cities: Sarnia, Ontarioand 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 in 1963. After 11 seasons as a strictly-U.S. league, the IHL admitted two Canadian teams in 1963, with the Windsor Bulldogsand the return of the Chatham Maroons. Both teams dropped out after one season. The International league wouldn't again have any franchises based outside of the U.S. until 1997.
Major market expansion
Starting in the late 1960s, the IHL's quality of play significantly upgraded until 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. From the late 1980son, the IHL began to expand into major markets such as Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kansas City, San Diego, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Orlando, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Pauland Phoenix. It even placed teams in markets that already had NHL teams, such as Chicago, Detroit, and Long Beach (near Los Angeles).
Its expansion into larger markets was rapid, spearheaded by media mogul
Ted Turner, and many of the smaller cities fell away (with many clubs, such as Fort Wayne, Peoria, Muskegon, and Kalamazoo joining lower-level leagues such as the United Hockey Leagueor the East Coast Hockey League).
Decline and collapse
The IHL's expansion into
NHLmarkets put a strain on relationships between the leagues. There was some speculation that the IHL would end up competing directly with the NHL, especially when a lock-out in 1994 threatened to wipe out the NHL season. ["League's founding father watches over 50th year," David Eminian, "The Hockey News", January 27, 1995.] However, in the 1995-96 season, the IHL's "soft" salary capwas just $1.5 million, ["Ufer trying to sell league on structured salary cap," David Eminian, "The Hockey News", November 10, 1995.] while the lowest NHL team payroll that season was $11.4 million. [cite web|url=http://www.hockeyzoneplus.com/$maseq_e.htm|title=NHL Teams' Payrolls|accessdate=2006-11-23]
In response, many NHL clubs shifted their affiliations to the AHL. In 1997-98, only four of 18 IHL teams had NHL affiliations. ["The Modern Minors," Eric Zweig, p. 381, in "Total Hockey", ed. Dan Diamond, Total Sports, 1998.] 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 into some of its markets, the league's rapid expansion proved a critical strain, and it folded after the 2001 season.
Six IHL franchises (the
Chicago Wolves, Grand Rapids Griffins, Houston Aeros, Utah Grizzlies, Milwaukee Admiralsand Manitoba Moose) were admitted into the AHL as expansion teams for the 2001-02 season, and then between them won the next three AHL Calder Cupchampionships (2002, 2003, 2004) and appeared in the Cup finals in the next two years (2005, 2006). The IHL's last champions, the Orlando Solar Bears, were not taken in because their owner, Rich DeVos, also owned the Griffins.
Trophies and awards
* [http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/awards/displayawardleague.php?league_id=IHL1946 Source] .
* [http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/leagues/ihl1946.html International Hockey League 1945-2001] Internet Hockey Database - Standings and Statistics
* [http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/awards/displayawardleague.php?league_id=IHL1946 International Hockey League 1945-2001] Internet Hockey Database - IHL Awards
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