AHL 101: Intro To The American Hockey League

All professional hockey players have to start somewhere.

And while players like Patrick Kane or Sidney Crosby can make the jump from junior leagues into the NHL, most hockey players need a little bit of seasoning. They need a place to hone their skills before they make that leap to the big show.

For most hockey players, that place is the American Hockey League.

The AHL celebrated its 75th anniversary last season. Every NHL team is now affiliated with one AHL team. (Before then, there would be shared affiliation between two NHL teams, sort of like the situation in the ECHL today.) Here on Runs On Duncan, we provide you with news on two of those teams — the Rockford IceHogs (affiliated with the Blackhawks) and the Chicago Wolves (affiliated with the Canucks).

Why is the AHL so important? Why are there two teams with the name “Admirals”? And why in God’s name are we covering a team affiliated with the Vancouver Canucks (besides the fact that they’re in Chicago)? Come along and learn some things after the jump.

The AHL is the primary development league for the NHL. The AHL even has a rule about player development in place for the 2011-12 season:

Of the 18 skaters (not counting two goaltenders) that teams may dress for a regular-season game, at least 13 must be qualified as “development players.” Of those 13, 12 must have played in 260 or fewer professional games (including AHL, NHL, IHL and European elite leagues), and one must have played in 320 or fewer professional games. All calculations for development status are based on regular-season totals as of the start of the season.

How many players have gone through the AHL? 50%? Nope, higher. 60%? Higher. 70%? Nope!

Try 87%. Yes, that’s right — almost 9 out of 10 players in the NHL today has skated with an AHL team in their career. That means there’s a chance that some of your favorite players are AHL alumni. On the Blackhawks alone, we have:

  • Bryan Bickell (Rockford IceHogs)
  • Dave Bolland (Rockford IceHogs)
  • Andrew Brunette (Providence Bruins, Portland Pirates)
  • Daniel Carcillo (Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins, San Antonio Rampage)
  • Corey Crawford (Rockford IceHogs)
  • Niklas Hjalmarsson (Rockford IceHogs)
  • Duncan Keith (Norfolk Admirals)
  • Nick Leddy (Rockford IceHogs)
  • Sami Lepisto (Hershey Bears)
  • Jamal Mayers (Worcester IceCats [relocated, now Peoria Rivermen])
  • Steve Montador (Saint John Flames [relocated, now Abbotsford Heat])
  • Sean O’Donnell (Rochester Americans)
  • Rostislav Olesz (Rochester Americans)
  • Alexander Salak (Rochester Americans)
  • John Scott (Houston Aeros)
  • Brent Seabrook (Norfolk Admirals)
  • Patrick Sharp (Philadelphia Phantoms [relocated, now Adirondack Phantoms])
  • Ben Smith (Rockford IceHogs)
  • Viktor Stalberg (Toronto Marlies)

Why, yes, it would have been easier to name the players who didn’t play in the AHL. But that list wouldn’t have been as impressive.

Here is a handy table so you can learn the different teams and affiliations. Why? I like tables.

Division Team City NHL Affiliate ECHL Affiliate
EASTERN CONFERENCE
ATLANTIC  Manchester Monarchs  Manchester, NH Los Angeles Kings Ontario Reign
 Portland Pirates  Portland, ME Phoenix Coyotes Gwinnett Gladiators
 Providence Bruins  Providence, RI Boston Bruins Reading Royals
 St. John’s IceCaps  St. John’s, NL Winnipeg Jets Colorado Eagles
 Worcester Sharks  Worcester, MA San Jose Sharks Stockton Thunder / Kalamazoo Wings
NORTHEAST  Adirondack Phantoms  Glens Falls, NY Philadelphia Flyers Trenton Titans
 Albany Devils  Albany, NY New Jersey Devils TBA
 Bridgeport Sound Tigers  Bridgeport, CT New York Islanders Kalamazoo Wings
 Connecticut Whale  Hartford, CT New York Rangers Greenville Road Warriors
 Springfield Falcons  Springfield, MA Columbus Blue Jackets Chicago Express
EAST  Binghamton Senators  Binghamton, NY Ottawa Senators Elmira Jackals
 Hershey Bears  Hershey, PA Washington Capitals South Carolina Stingrays
 Norfolk Admirals  Norfolk, VA Tampa Bay Lightning Florida Everblades
 Syracuse Crunch  Syracuse, NY Anaheim Ducks Elmira Jackals
 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton  Penguins  Wilkes-Barre, PA Pittsburgh Penguins Wheeling Nailers
WESTERN CONFERENCE
NORTH  Grand Rapids Griffins  Grand Rapid, MI Detroit Red Wings Toledo Walleye
 Hamilton Bulldogs  Hamilton, ON Montreal Canadiens Wheeling Nailers
 Lake Erie Monsters  Cleveland, OH Colorado Avalanche Allen Americans (CHL)
 Rochester Americans  Rochester, NY Buffalo Sabres None
 Toronto Marlies  Toronto, ON Toronto Maple Leafs Reading Royals
MIDWEST  Charlotte Checkers  Charlotte, NC Carolina Hurricanes Florida Everblades
 Chicago Wolves  Rosemont, IL Vancouver Canucks TBA
 Milwaukee Admirals  Milwakuee, WI Nashville Predators Cincinnati Cyclones
 Peoria Rivermen  Peoria, IL St. Louis Blues Alaska Aces
 Rockford IceHogs  Rockford, IL Chicago Blackhawks Toledo Walleye
WEST  Abbotsford Heat  Abbotsford, BC Calgary Flames Utah Grizzlies
 Houston Aeros  Houston, TX Minnesota Wild Bakersfield Condors
 Oklahoma City Barons  Oklahoma City,  OK Edmonton Oilers Stockton Thunder
 San Antonio Rampage  San Antonio, TX Florida Panthers Cincinnati Cyclones
 Texas Stars  Cedar Park, TX Dallas Stars Idaho Steelheads / Allen Americans (CHL)

Now to answer some questions I’m pretty sure you’ll have…

So what’s the deal with the two Admirals teams, anyway?

The Norfolk Admirals were the first team in the AHL with the name, as they entered the league in the 2000-01 season as an expansion team. The next season, the Milwaukee Admirals entered the league after their previous league, the IHL, folded. However, the Milwakuee Admirals had been playing under their name since 1974 (they were named after a brand of household appliances one of their investors sold in his appliance store — yes, seriously).

Since the Norfolk Admirals were so new, and the Milwaukee Admirals were so established, the decision was made to keep the two team names the same. It’s not as confusing as one would think, since there is little inter-conference play in the AHL.

Why are the Blackhawks affiliated with the IceHogs and not with the Wolves?

The Chicago Wolves were part of the IHL and came over to the league at the same time as the Milwaukee Admirals. At that time, the Chicago Blackhawks had already signed on with the Norfolk Admirals. After the Blackhawks ended their affiliation with the Admirals in 2007, the Chicago Wolves were already affiliated with the Atlanta Thrashers. Therefore, the IceHogs (who were previously the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks and relocated) became the affiliates of the Blackhawks.

Why didn’t the Blackhawks come calling when the Wolves were looking for an NHL affiliate this summer? They signed a ten-year deal with Rockford back in 2007. Therefore, they can’t move their affiliation until 2017 at the earliest.

Why are you covering the AHL affiliate of the hated Vancouver Canucks on a Blackhawks website?

Well, the easy answer would be “Because they weren’t affiliated with them before.” Before this season, the Wolves were the AHL team of the Atlanta Thrashers, as previously stated. That relationship ended when the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and became the Winnipeg Jets. See, the owners of the Winnipeg Jets, True North Entertainment, had previously owned an AHL team in Winnipeg, the Manitoba Moose. The Moose were moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland, and renamed the St. John’s IceCaps. Of course, True North would want both of their teams to be affiliated with each other to maximize profit and synergy and all that other corporate junk, so instead of renewing the Thrashers’ old contract with the Wolves, they switched the Jets’ AHL affiliation to the IceCaps.

The Wolves were now an orphaned team. So, too, were the Vancouver Canucks, who had been previously affiliated with the Manitoba Moose. They decided to come together, and that’s how we here at Runs On Duncan are now covering a team that is affiliated with the Canucks.

You might say that it would be easy not to cover the Wolves, but that would be ignoring a rabid hockey fan base in Chicago. And why would we want to do a silly thing like that?

For more information and news about the AHL teams we cover here on ROD, check out Wolves Wednesdays and IceHogs Thursdays.

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