International Hockey League (1945–2001)

International Hockey League (1945–2001)

Infobox Sports league
title = International Hockey League

pixels = 161px
sport = Ice hockey
founded = 1945
country = USA
most_champs = Toledo Blades /
Toledo Goaldiggers (6)
folded = 2001
The International Hockey League (IHL) was a minor professional ice hockey league in the United States and Canada from 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.


Early years

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 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, 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 in 1963. After 11 seasons as a strictly-U.S. 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. 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 1980s on, 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. Paul and 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 League or the East Coast Hockey League).

Decline and collapse

The IHL's expansion into NHL markets 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 cap was 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 $11.4 million. [cite web|url=$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 Admirals and 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 Cup championships (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

* [ Source] .

Franchise timelines


External links

* [ International Hockey League 1945-2001] Internet Hockey Database - Standings and Statistics
* [ International Hockey League 1945-2001] Internet Hockey Database - IHL Awards

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