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Happy birthday to us!

November 7, 2012
Photo: Herman Seid/AHL Archives

On Nov. 7, 1936 -- 76 years ago today -- the International-American Hockey League began its first season of play with all eight teams in action. By 1940, the IAHL had changed its name to the American Hockey League, and today it is a 30-team circuit stretching across North America that is the top development league in the world, with more than 6 million fans attending games every season and more than 100 alumni in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Springfield Indians earned a 3-0 victory over the Providence Reds on opening night. The Indians would go on to become one of the most storied franchises in AHL history, playing a total of 51 seasons and winning seven Calder Cup championships; the Reds played in Rhode Island until 1977, winning four Calder Cups of their own. The two New England cities still have AHL hockey, with the Falcons and Bruins having been rivals for nearly two decades.

The Syracuse Stars defeated the Buffalo Bisons, 3-2, in those teams’ opener. The Stars’ Jack Markle would lead the IAHL in scoring with 60 points in 1936-37, helping the club win the first Calder Cup championship. The Bisons’ immediate future was not so bright; financially strapped during the Great Depression after their arena had collapsed, Buffalo folded just 11 games into the 1936-37 season.

Led by future Hockey Hall of Famer Bryan Hextall Sr., the Philadelphia Ramblers opened their IAHL season with a 4-2 win over the visiting New Haven Eagles. The Ramblers won two division titles in their first three seasons, but the Calder Cup was not brought to Philadelphia until the Phantoms won it in 1998 and again in 2005. The Eagles suspended operations during the 1942-43 season as teams in all sports struggled to thrive during World War II, but New Haven would prove to be a successful AHL market in later years.

The Pittsburgh Hornets beat the Cleveland Falcons, 4-2, on that night 76 years ago. The Hornets played a total of 27 seasons in the American Hockey League and won three Calder Cups before the franchise gave way to the NHL’s expansion Pittsburgh Penguins in 1967. The Falcons changed their name to the Barons in 1937 and became the most successful organization of its era, winning nine Calder Cups in 26 years from 1938-64.

Seventy-six years and more than 37,000 games later, the American Hockey League is still going strong.