E-Mail Subscriptions to the Blog

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Sunday, May 27, 2007

IceHogs to raise UHL banner in AHL; Has the UHL a future?

The Rockford IceHogs won the Colonial Cup in a 3-1 decision that demonstrated a lot of what is right about minor league hockey. It marked an exit for the IceHogs from the United Hockey League and capped a week in which another UHL team, the Port Huron Flags, folded. And a week that saw a second UHL team bolt the league, the Quad City Mallards. Currently, the UHL has just six surviving teams, the Chicago Hounds, the Bloomington Prairie Thunder, the Fort Wayne Komets, the Kalamazoo K-Wings and the Muskegon Fury.

The IceHogs will be raising the franchises’ first league championship banner next year in a new league. The team is now affiliated with the Chicago Blackhawks and will play in the American Hockey League against rivals in the Quad Cities, Des Moines, Chicago, Milwaukee, Peoria and Grand Rapids. Although the players will likely be given the opportunity to compete for a spot on the AHL affiliated IceHogs, even the best players will struggle to make the cut in the organization that played this season as the Norfolk Admirals.

Like the IceHogs, the Quad City Mallards ended the season exiting the UHL stage. That team affiliated with the Calgary Flames and takes on the persona of the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights. The Knights will be folding their tent in Omaha completely, the victim of too small a market supporting too many hockey teams.

The entry of the IceHogs and another team, the Cleveland Lake Monsters, into the AHL next season is promising a busy meeting of the AHL Board of Governors later this summer. The AHL, which has monopolized the development of players for the National Hockey League and is the only AAA level league in North America, is aiming to affiliate each of the league’s teams with an NHL team. With 29 AHL teams and 30 NHL teams that goal is nearly a reality.

Only the Rochester Americans have dual affiliations next season, splitting the team between prospects from the Buffalo Sabres and the Florida Panthers.

The Chicago Wolves are affiliated with the Atlanta Thrashers, the Peoria Rivermen with the St. Louis Blues, the Grand Rapids Griffins with the Detroit Red Wings and the Milwaukee Admirals with the Nashville Predators.

The West Division of the Western Conference had two Texas teams, San Antonio, affiliated with the Phoenix Coyotes, and the Houston Aeros, affiliated with the Minnesota Wild.

In addition the teams from Omaha, Des Moines, Chicago, Milwaukee and Peoria played in the division. At the end of the regular season four of the teams were selected for the playoffs based on their regular season records. In order, they were Omaha, Chicago, Milwaukee and Iowa. Peoria just missed the playoffs by a few points and would have replaced a team in another division if successful.

The incoming Norfolk Admirals, who replace the IceHogs, had a very successful season playing in the tough East Division. They were eliminated in the first round. However that round, in the East, saw three of the teams with the most regular season points compete in the first round and only two would advance.

For many hockey fans the question is how will the league align itself. That determines which teams play each other on a frequent basis. According to the Peoria Journal Star and the Quad City Times, the AHL indicated it would be using six divisions and two conferences next season. The current West Division of the AHL would be split between two divisions, with the Grand Rapids Griffins and possibly the two Texas teams playing in one of the two divisions. Illinois’ four teams, only New York State has as many teams in one state, would be split between the two divisions, possibly meaning the IceHogs and the Wolves would not play in the same division.

There have been a number of excellent summaries of the UHL problems this season. Earlier this year this blog discussed the UHL’s problems here. More recently, Bill Shaun covered the UHL story here and Justin Cohn discussed the problems in the Fort Wayne Gazette on May 17, “Be Patient with UHL Evolution.”

No comments: