International Hockey League (1945–2001)

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 of the surviving seven teams merged into the AHL in 2001.

International Hockey League
SportIce hockey
Most titlesCincinnati Mohawks (5)


Early years

The IHL was formed on December 5, 1945, in a three-hour meeting at the Norton Palmer Hotel in Windsor, Ontario. In attendance were Jack Adams (coach of the Detroit Red Wings), Fred Huber (Red Wings public relations), Frank Gallagher (later league commissioner), Lloyd Pollock (Windsor hockey pioneer), Gerald McHugh (Windsor lawyer), Len Hebert, Len Loree and Bill Beckman. The league began operations in the 1945–46 IHL season with four teams in Windsor and Detroit, and operated as semi-professional league.[1]

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 1962–63 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

Bill Beagan served as commissioner of the IHL from 1969 to 1978. The Canadian Press cited him for turning around the league's financial situation and making it a top-tier development system for future NHL talent.[2]

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 a few surviving members of the Central Hockey League, which had ceased operations.

In 1985, the league adopted the shootout to determine tie games in place of traditional overtime.[3] The NHL would begin using the shootout to avoid tie games in 2005.

Beginning in the late 1980s and continuing into the mid-90s, the IHL expanded 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 markets were served by the defunct World Hockey Association or were abandoned by the NHL. The IHL also entered markets that already had NHL teams, such as Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles. In 1996, 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 the original Winnipeg Jets.

The minimum requirements to for an IHL expansion team in 1995 were "a 10,000-seat arena, a population base of one million, and a $6 million franchise fee."[4] As the league expanded into larger markets, many of the smaller-market teams (such as Fort Wayne, Peoria, Muskegon, Kalamazoo and Flint) left the IHL and joined lower-level leagues.

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 was intending to compete directly with the NHL, especially when a lockout in 1994–95 threatened to wipe out the NHL season.[5] However, in the 1995–96 season, the IHL's "soft" salary cap was just $1.5 million,[6] while the lowest NHL team payroll that season was $11.4 million.[7] An Fall 1994 article in Sports Illustrated praising the IHL and mocking the NHL only fueled the fire. In said article, IHL officials detailed plans to continue expanding the league to large markets in North America, as well as, "a six-team European league with franchises in England, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Sweden and France."[8]

In response, many NHL clubs shifted their affiliations to the AHL, and by 1997–98, only four of 18 IHL teams had NHL affiliations.[9] 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. Between them, they have played for the AHL Calder Cup seven times, winning four—including three in a row after their arrival. As well, the Cincinnati Cyclones was readmitted to the East Coast Hockey League, which hosted the team from 1990 to 1992 before it moved to the IHL. The Orlando Solar Bears (the final IHL playoff champions) and the Kansas City Blades were not admitted into the AHL because their owner, Rich DeVos, who also owned the Griffins, was allowed to own only one AHL franchise. The league's other two teams, the Cleveland Lumberjacks and Detroit Vipers, ceased operations along with the league.

Two former IHL teams that moved to the AHL have since relocated: the Utah Grizzlies moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to become the Lake Erie Monsters (rebranded as Cleveland Monsters in 2016) in 2007 and the Houston Aeros moved to Des Moines, Iowa, to become the Iowa Wild in 2013. A third team, the Manitoba Moose, temporarily relocated to St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador to become the St. John's IceCaps from 2011 to 2015. Three former franchises have been relaunched in lower-tier leagues since the IHL's demise. The Utah Grizzlies name was revived by the former Lexington Men O' War of the ECHL when they moved, and the Orlando Solar Bears restarted as an ECHL expansion team. The Peoria Rivermen have had three more franchises with an expansion team in the East Coast Hockey League from 1996 to 2005, a relocated Worcester IceCats in the American Hockey League from 2005 to 2013, and a fourth incarnation of the Peoria Rivermen subsequently launched in the Southern Professional Hockey League in 2013.

Trophies and awards

The Turner Cup was the championship trophy of the International Hockey League.
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

Team name(s) Years of
Number of
1945Detroit Auto Club1945–19516 
1945Detroit Bright's Goodyears1945–19494 
1945Windsor Gotfredsons
Windsor Staffords
Windsor Ryan Cretes
1945Windsor Spitfires
Windsor Hettche Spitfires
Detroit Hettche
1946Detroit Metal Mouldings
Detroit Jerry Lynch
1947Toledo Mercurys1947–1949
14Played in North and South divisions (1948–1949 season).
Played as Toledo Buckeyes (EAHL) (1949–1950).
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
4Played in OHA Sr. A (1952–1963).
1950Grand Rapids Rockets
Huntington Hornets
Louisville Rebels
1951Troy Bruins1951–19598 
1952Cincinnati Mohawks1952–19586Transferred from AHL in 1952.
1952Fort Wayne Komets
Albany Choppers
38Ceased operations mid-season on February 15, 1991.
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
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
1962Port Huron Flags
Port Huron Wings
Port Huron Flags
1963Des Moines Oak Leafs
Des Moines Capitols
1963Toledo Blades
Toledo Hornets
Lansing Lancers
1963Windsor Bulldogs1963–19641Transferred from OHA Sr. A in 1963.
1964Dayton Gems1964–1977
14Team on hiatus from 1977 to 1979.
1966Columbus Checkers
Columbus Golden Seals
Columbus Owls
Dayton Owls
Grand Rapids Owls
23Franchise on hiatus from 1970 to 1971. Dayton relocated mid-season to Grand Rapids on December 15, 1977.
1969Flint Generals
Saginaw Generals
Saginaw Hawks
1972Saginaw Gears1972–198311 
1974Kalamazoo Wings
Michigan K-Wings
1974Toledo Goaldiggers
Kansas City Blades
1977Milwaukee Admirals1977–200124Transferred from USHL in 1977.
Transferred to AHL in 2001.
1982Peoria Prancers
Peoria Rivermen
San Antonio Dragons
1984Salt Lake Golden Eagles
Detroit Vipers
17Transferred from CHL in 1984.
1984Indianapolis Checkers
Colorado Rangers
Denver Rangers
Phoenix Roadrunners
13Transferred from CHL in 1984.
1985Flint Spirits
Fort Wayne Komets
13Transferred to UHL in 1999.
1988Indianapolis Ice1988–199911Transferred to CHL in 1999.
1990San Diego Gulls
Los Angeles Ice Dogs
Long Beach Ice Dogs
10Transferred to WCHL in 2000.
1992Cleveland Lumberjacks1992–20019
Replaced by the Barons AHL team after the IHL folded in 2001.
1992Cincinnati Cyclones1992–20019Replaced ECHL team of the same name in 1992.
Replaced by an ECHL team of the same name after the IHL folded in 2001.
1993Las Vegas Thunder1993–19996 
1994Chicago Wolves1994–20017Transferred to AHL in 2001.
1994Houston Aeros1994–20017Transferred to AHL in 2001.
1994Minnesota Moose
Manitoba Moose
7Transferred to AHL in 2001.
1994Denver Grizzlies
Utah Grizzlies
7Transferred to AHL in 2001.
1995Orlando Solar Bears1995–20016 
1995San Francisco Spiders1995–19961 
1996Grand Rapids Griffins1996–20015Transferred to AHL in 2001.

See also

  • List of developmental and minor sports leagues
  • List of ice hockey leagues
  • Minor league


  1. "History of the International Hockey League". 2001. Retrieved 2019-07-02.
  2. "Beagan takes on a host of problems". Brandon Sun. Brandon, Manitoba. November 16, 1978. p. 7.
  3. "Putting on a Show".
  4. "Putting on a Show".
  5. "League's founding father watches over 50th year," David Eminian, The Hockey News, January 27, 1995.
  6. "Ufer trying to sell league on structured salary cap," David Eminian, The Hockey News, November 10, 1995.
  7. "NHL Teams' Payrolls". Archived from the original on 2008-06-17. Retrieved 2006-11-23.
  8. "Putting on a Show".
  9. "The Modern Minors," Eric Zweig, p. 381, in Total Hockey, ed. Dan Diamond, Total Sports, 1998.
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