MAJOR CHANGES IN PLACE FOR AHL 2015-16 SEASON
BAK STUDIOS – The American Hockey League has seen many changes over its 79 years of supplying prospects to the National Hockey League. In the AHL’s first season in 1936-37 the league consisted of 8 teams: New Haven, Philadelphia, Providence and Springfield in the Eastern Division and Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and the league’s first champion, Syracuse in the Western Division. Move forward to 2014-15 and the the league now sits with 30 franchises, boasting a franchise affiliation with every NHL team.
However at one point, the AHL was in a battle with the International Hockey League who catered as well to the NHL but ran things differently trying to run in major cities in the United States and paying much bigger contracts then the AHL was able to. The IHL ran from 1945-2001 and like the AHL saw many cities, conference/division alignments and affiliations with the NHL. The IHL and AHL even shared many cities through out their histories, though not at the same time, the IHL’s Albany Choppers played games in the city before the Albany River Rats and Albany Devils. Even a team name that will be joining the AHL this upcoming season the San Diego Gulls played 11 years in the IHL. The AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals also played 24 seasons in the IHL before joining the AHL in 2001.
And that 2001-02 season for the American Hockey League was a big one for the league. The year prior saw 20 teams in the league as a struggling IHL was only comprised of 11 teams. After the IHL’s final Turner Cup where the Orlando Solar Bears beat the Chicago Wolves 4-1 in the seven game series, the IHL folded leaving an opportunity for the American Hockey League to start it’s drive to have 30 AHL teams for 30 NHL teams. Not all the IHL teams merged into the AHL after the collapse, but what’s now dubbed as the I-6 Invasion back in 2001-02 the Grand Rapids Griffins, Chicago Wolves, Milwaukee Admirals, Utah Grizzlies, Manitoba Moose and Houston Aeros joined the ranks of the AHL.
The AHL also saw 3 other new teams join the league with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Manchester Monarchs and the Cleveland Barons all making their debuts. The Kentucky Thoroughblades and Louisville Panthers were two teams that went defunct that season though the franchise that was the Louisville Panthers became the Cleveland Barons. It was this 11 official moves that transformed the American Hockey League from a more North East 20 team regional feeder league to the NHL to a more far reaching league.
Move forward to the upcoming 2015-16 season, the AHL will have a major transformation once again with 7 moves all ready announced and official. Here is a breakdown of those moves and their impacts on the cities and league.
- The Manchester Monarchs AHL franchise will move to the city of Ontario, California and become the Ontario Reign. The Ontario Reign ECHL franchise will move to Manchester, NH and will become the Manchester Monarchs in the ECHL.
- The Norfolk Admirals AHL franchise will move to the city of San Diego, California and become the San Diego Gulls. The Bakersfield Condors ECHL franchise owned by the Edmonton Oilers will move to Norfolk, Virginia and become the Norfolk Admirals in the ECHL.
- The Adirondack Flames AHL franchise will move to the city of Stockton, California and become the Stockton Heat. The Stockton Thunder ECHL franchise will move to Glens Falls, NY and become the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL.
- The Worcester Sharks AHL franchise will move to the city of San Jose, California but do not have a new name announced as of yet. The city of Worcester, Massachusetts will likely not have professional hockey next season as a result of this move.
- The Oklahoma City Barons AHL franchise will move to the city of Bakersfield, California to become the Bakersfield Condors. As noted above, the Bakersfield Condors ECHL franchise owned by the Edmonton Oilers will move to Norfolk, Virgina and become the Norfolk Admirals in the ECHL.
- The Hamilton Bulldogs AHL franchise now owned by the Montreal Canadiens will move to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador and become the St. John’s IceCaps.
- The St. John’s IceCaps AHL franchise owned by the Winnipeg Jets will move to the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba and become the Manitoba Moose in the AHL.
As you can see, the AHL will leave the cities of Manchester, Worcester, Norfolk, Glens Falls, Hamilton and Oklahoma City for next season and the far out post of St. John’s will be the only survivor at this point in the 7 major moves. Only Worcester, Oklahoma City and Hamilton will be left without professional hockey, though the OHL’s Belleville Bulls will move into Hamilton with the departure of the Bulldogs to St. John’s.
The transformation of the American Hockey League is always constant and fluid as the National Hockey League transforms as well. But what’s next? Will their be more changes to come? There are other hands in the pot with affiliations up and needing to be re-signed and teams like Arizona and Colorado wanting their prospects somewhere out west in the future. Either way, from recent memory this up coming season will be a major change in the AHL, not unlike maybe the biggest transformation when 6 IHL teams invaded the American Hockey league back in 2001.