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Four Leagues in Seven Seasons

05/31/2012 9:37 AM - Mike Peck
Here is some interesting stuff for all you diehard Rockford IceHogs fans regarding some old United Hockey League teams.

The Fort Wayne Komets announced this week that they are joining the ECHL for the 2012-13 season, jumping from the Central Hockey League after two seasons.

With FTW in the ECHL, that now makes three former UHL clubs in the ECHL. The Komets join the Kalamazoo Wings and Elmira Jackals.

The UHL disbanded following Rockford’s Colonial Cup Championship season in 2007 and there was some blame pointed at Rockford for starting the domino effect when they announced (officially anyways) in March of 2007 that the team was jumping to the American Hockey League.

The Quad City Mallards followed suit and moved to the AHL, while the Elmira Jackals changed over to the ECHL following that season. Two seasons later (2009-10) the Kalamazoo Wings also made the move to the ECHL from the rekindled International Hockey League which featured the left over UHL teams.

Quad City only lasted two years in the AHL and are now in the CHL.

Evansville (Icemen), Indiana also announced that they were switching from the CHL to the ECHL next season and that was a market originally targeted by the UHL throughout the early to mid-2000s as an expansion franchise.

Back to Fort Wayne for a moment….when the season commences in October, the Komets will have played in four different leagues in seven seasons (UHL, IHL, CHL and ECHL). That has to be unprecedented!

One thing I definitely don’t miss about the old U-haul days is the instability of the league and the year-in and year-out talk about the league folding or half the teams going under. From a front office standpoint, that is a huge burden lifted off our shoulders.

In 2006-07, the UHL ended the campaign with 10 teams and of those clubs, seven markets still have hockey (six in the professional ranks). Other than Rockford (AHL), Fort Wayne (ECHL), Kalamazoo (ECHL), Elmira (ECHL) and Quad City (CHL), Bloomington (CHL) and Muskegon (USHL) still have hockey. Muskegon’s team is a junior club.

That means Flint, Port Huron and Chicago (Hoffman Estates) are without hockey.

The professional minor league hockey landscape is ever changing as it is very high risk as an owner.  The CHL has gone through some big changes over the past five-six seasons, losing two of their cornerstone franchises in Oklahoma City (to the AHL) and Colorado (to the ECHL).  The league still does have 11 active teams, but is losing its southern (mainly Texas) footprint.

The ECHL continues to grow and will be up to 23 teams in 2012-13, spanning from coast-to-coast. It only makes sense that eventually the ECHL will match the AHL and NHL with 30 teams, giving professional hockey a very similar minor league system that professional baseball has with their AAA and AA levels.