Thursday, September 13, 2012

Better Know A Minor League: Central Hockey League

With the impending lockout doom-- DOOOOOOOM-- it's probably for the best that the actual NHL fans actually get acquainted with some other leagues out there. Yes, that's right, folks-- there's other hockey leagues out there besides the NHL. Crazy, I know. So, here we go. 

When it comes to mergers, the Central Hockey League is one of the tops there is for have leagues want to merge into their league. It started with the Western Professional Hockey League merging with the CHL in 2001 and then the second-incarnation of the IHL merging with the CHL in 2010; the Central Hockey League is a league that went from the South-Central US and has grown far and wide to the Midwest and Southwest.

Though the CHL only has ten teams, it's all in eight states-- Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois, South Dakota, Arizona, Colorado, and Missouri. While they like to tout themselves as another "AA" league like the ECHL, only three NHL teams have affiliations with any team whatsoever; and most of them are due to proximity to the NHL's home-base. Luckily, the CHL has an 11th team coming into the league next season, which is a second team in Missouri.

In the realm of Southern hockey, the CHL has been solid with keeping their teams mostly in the Texas area, but going as far out as Macon, Georgia to the east and Youngstown, Ohio to the North and East. However, in recent years, the CHL has been in a flux of teams coming and going. Many teams have dropped down into the US Junior ranks, while others have used it as a stepping stone to move into the ECHL. In fact, last year's Ray Miron President's Cup champion-- the Fort Wayne Komets-- will be in the ECHL this season.

The CHL is also a case study about a league that tries to get too far out of their comfort zone and have struggles because of it. Though they did have their little bubble, they allowed other teams which were much too far out of their range-- thinking it could be a good idea. That ultimately led to those teams failing and leading to much more travel costs and maybe leading to failure of other teams as well. It seems that the league has gotten to a point where they have been able to keep things around a close area, with only South Dakota not being connected to any other state that's in the league.

With all of that said, the CHL has a very dedicated fan base and provides a competitive game for those in attendance with many former college hockey players and former AHL and ECHL players bringing up the talent level. It also provides fans with decent road-trip options should they want to follow their team around the loop. While you may not see many of these guys in the NHL when all is said and done, the bond the players create with the area is something that probably holds more value to fans than whether or not they make it or not.

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