The Canadian-American Hockey League and the International Hockey League merge in 1936, forming the International-American Hockey League (the “International” would be dropped from the name in 1940).
The IAHL begins with franchises in Providence, New Haven, Philadelphia, Springfield, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffalo. Maurice Podoloff, who would later serve simultaneously as president of the National Basketball Association, is named the league’s first president, a position he will hold for 16 years.
The Buffalo Bisons last just 11 games into the league’s first season after their rink burns down, forcing them to suspend operations. The Syracuse Stars go on to capture the first Calder Cup championship.
In 1937-38 Fred “Bun” Cook earns the first of his seven Calder Cup titles as a head coach by leading the Providence Reds to the championship. The Hershey Bears join the AHL in 1938, followed by Indianapolis in 1939. Another notable newcomer that year is future Hall of Famer Eddie Shore, an active player with the Boston Bruins, who buys the Springfield Indians and manages to play for both teams. Cleveland Barons owner Al Sutphin carries out a bold promotion by giving away an automobile at each home game, and the arena on Euclid Avenue is soon packed to the rafters.
Buffalo returns to the AHL when the Auditorium is constructed in 1940. The Cleveland Barons win the 1941 Calder Cup led by Les Cunningham, the league scoring champion and a five-time AHL All-Star.
In February 1942, the AHL holds an All-Star Game to raise funds for the war efforts in the United States and Canada. Springfield is forced to suspend operations in 1942-43 because its arena is taken over by the United States Quartermaster for use during World War II.
Eddie Shore moves his players to Buffalo and takes control of the franchise. Buffalo goalie Gordie Bell posts nine shutouts and leads the Bisons to the Calder Cup in 1943, their first of two straight titles. Eddie Shore severs his partnership with Buffalo and operates a team in New Haven in 1945-46, then returns to Springfield in 1946-47.
Cleveland Barons sniper John Holota becomes the first player in AHL history to score 50 or more goals when he nets 52 during the 1946-47 season. A year later, Carl Liscombe (118) and Cliff Simpson (110) become the first pro players ever to top the 100-point mark. Cleveland and Buffalo dominate the 1940’s each winning three Calder Cup championships. The Barons win six division titles and go to the Calder Cup Finals five times in the decade.
Cincinnati joins the AHL in 1949-50, but it is the Indianapolis Capitals who are the talk of the league. Led by future Hall of Fame goaltender Terry Sawchuk, the Capitals roll through the playoffs unbeaten to claim their first Calder Cup championship.
A young Johnny Bower leads Cleveland to the 1951 Calder Cup. Bower will win three consecutive AHL MVP awards prior to his Hall of Fame NHL career. Tim Horton and Frank Mathers lead Pittsburgh to the Calder Cup in 1952. Eddie Shore moves his Springfield team to Syracuse to the new Onondaga County War Memorial, only to return to Springfield in 1954.
The All-Star Game returns in October 1954, with a team of AHL stars facing the defending champion Cleveland Barons. The Rochester Americans take the ice in 1956-57 and promptly go to the Calder Cup Finals where they lose to Cleveland. Frank Mathers moves from Pittsburgh to Hershey and leads the Bears to consecutive championships in 1958 and 1959.
When the Quebec Aces join the league in the fall of 1959 the AHL has its first Canadian-based team.
The Springfield Indians open the 60’s by winning three straight Calder Cups and star center Bill Sweeney wins three straight AHL scoring titles, two feats that have yet to be duplicated. Pittsburgh returns to the AHL in 1961, then leaves again to join the NHL in 1967.
The Cleveland Barons win the last of their nine Calder Cup championships in 1964. Jack Riley becomes AHL president in 1964; two years later he will leave to run the Pittsburgh Penguins. His successor in the league office is Jack Butterfield, general manager of the Springfield Indians; Butterfield will serve as AHL president until 1994.
Rochester wins three titles in a four-year span, with future NHL coaches Al Arbour, Don Cherry and Gerry Cheevers leading the way on the ice. The Pittsburgh Hornets prevent Rochester from winning four straight titles when they beat the Amerks in the 1967 Finals, but Rochester bounces back to end their run with a Calder Cup in 1968.
Following the 1967-68 season, Fred Glover retires to take over as head coach of the NHL’s Oakland Seals. At the time, Glover leaves the AHL as the league’s all-time leader in games played, goals, assists and points and with five Calder Cup championships to his credit.
In 1969, under the direction of Montreal GM Sam Pollock, the Canadiens become the first NHL team to buy an AHL franchise (Montreal Voyageurs).
The Buffalo Bisons win their fifth and final Calder Cup in 1970, then give way to the NHL’s Sabres. The 1970-71 Springfield Kings, led by Butch Goring and Billy Smith, become the first team in league history to win the Calder Cup after posting a losing record during the regular season. In the summer of 1971, the Montreal Voyageurs move to Halifax, N.S., where they capture the Calder Cup in 1972.
Willie Marshall eclipses Fred Glover’s four major league records and retires as the AHL’s all-time leading scorer in 1972, with 523 goals, 852 assists and 1,375 points in 1,205 games over 20 seasons.
The Cincinnati Swords are the class of the league, rolling to the 1973 Calder Cup. The Springfield Kings become the Indians again in 1974-75 and go on to win another championship. Nova Scotia rebounds to win back-to-back titles in 1976 and 1977, and with the Montreal Canadiens winning consecutive Stanley Cups, it marks the first two times an organization captures the Calder and Stanley Cups in the same season.
President Jack Butterfield guides the AHL through difficult times in the decade, and the league survives NHL expansion and the appearance (and disappearance) of the World Hockey Association. After just six teams play in 1976-77, the AHL adds franchises in Portland, Binghamton, Philadelphia, Hampton Roads, Moncton, Glens Falls and Syracuse over the next three years.
The Maine Mariners win the Calder Cup in 1977 and 1978, becoming the only team in AHL history to win the title in each of its first two seasons.
The Adirondack Red Wings win the Calder Cup in just their second season (1980-81). Under head coach Mike Keenan, Rochester defeats Maine for the 1983 Calder Cup; a year later, Maine defeats Rochester for the Calder Cup giving the Mariners three championships in their first seven seasons. The Sherbrooke Canadiens capture the 1985 title behind 19-year-old rookie goaltender Patrick Roy.
In 1986, Paul Gardner becomes the first player in over 20 years to win consecutive AHL scoring titles, while Adirondack, led by Adam Oates and head coach Bill Dineen, captures its second Calder Cup.
Brett Hull explodes into the AHL with Moncton in 1987, scoring 50 goals and winning the Dudley “Red” Garrett Award as AHL’s top rookie. The AHL employs a shootout to break ties in 1986-87. The Hershey Bears win the 1988 Calder Cup, rolling through the postseason unbeaten (12-0).
The 1988-89 Sherbrooke Canadiens help rewrite the league’s scoring records, thanks to rookie Stephan Lebeau, who posts 134 points and 70 goals. Lebeau’s linemate Benoit Brunet sets a rookie record with 76 assists. But Adirondack closes out the decade with its third championship in nine years, along the way becoming the second team in AHL history to erase an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.
The Springfield Indians win back-to-back championships, first as the New York Islanders’ affiliate in 1990 and then as the Hartford Whalers’ affiliate in 1991, with Jimmy Roberts at the helm both times. Adirondack wins its fourth Calder Cup in 1992, defeating the first-year St. John’s Maple Leafs in a memorable seven-game Finals series in which the road team wins every game.
The Binghamton Rangers establish an AHL record with 124 standings points (57-13-10) in 1992-93, while Rangers forward Don Biggs sets the AHL single-season scoring mark with 138 points and rookie goaltender Corey Hirsch dazzles with a 35-4-5 record and a league-best 2.79 GAA. But Bill McDougall smashes Calder Cup records by posting 26 goals and 52 points in just 16 games to lead the Cape Breton Oilers to the 1993 Calder Cup championship.
The AHL returns to Providence in 1992 and to Portland in 1993, where the Portland Pirates win the Calder Cup in their first season behind playoff MVP Olaf Kolzig.
After 28 years as league president, Jack Butterfield retires from the position and is replaced by David Andrews, GM of the ‘93 champion Cape Breton Oilers. The 1994-95 season marks the return of the AHL All-Star Game, the first such event in 35 years. Albany wins the ‘95 Calder Cup, sweeping Fredericton in the Finals.
The AHL is aligned into four divisions and two conferences for the first time in 1995-96, and teams receive a point for an overtime loss, a policy later adopted by the NHL. The All-Star Classic is held in Hershey as the league adds a Skills Competition to the All-Star Game. Rochester captures its sixth Calder Cup, defeating Portland in a seven-game Final.
The first-year Philadelphia Phantoms compile the league’s best record in 1996-97, but Hershey claims the eighth Calder Cup in team history by defeating Hamilton in the Finals. A year later, Philadelphia’s Peter White becomes the first player in 12 years to win back-to-back scoring titles and leads the Phantoms to a Calder Cup championship of their own.
Under rookie head coach Peter Laviolette, the Providence Bruins master an incredible 70-point turnaround in 1998-99, winning 56 games in the regular season and capturing the Calder Cup just one season removed from a 19-54-7 outing. The AHL tests a four-on-four format in regular-season overtime, and adopts the policy the following year.
The Hartford Wolf Pack, who moved into Connecticut’s capital when the NHL’s Whalers departed in 1997, capture the city’s first-ever pro hockey championship in 1999-2000 as John Paddock becomes the first head coach to win Calder Cups with three different teams. A year later, the Saint John Flames capture the Calder Cup, bringing the title back to Canada for the first time since 1993.
The 2001-02 season is one of the most memorable in league history for a wide range of reasons. The year begins on a tragic note, as AHL alumni Ace Bailey and Mark Bavis are among the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Membership jumps to 27 teams and the geography of the league changes dramatically with the additions of nine teams, including six from the now-defunct International Hockey League. An incredibly competitive regular season ends with the top 17 teams separated by just 12 points, and the Chicago Wolves, 16th overall in the regular season standings, capture the Calder Cup in their first season in the AHL.
Bolstered by a dual affiliation with Montreal and Edmonton and featuring future NHL stars like Mike Komisarek, Michael Ryder, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Tomas Plekanec, Ty Conklin, Ron Hainsey, Raffi Torres, Jarret Stoll and AHL MVP Jason Ward, Hamilton dominates the 2002-03 regular season before being derailed by Houston in a classic seven-game Finals series. Springfield captain Rob Murray becomes the sixth player ever to skate in 1,000 AHL games.
In 2003-04, a record number of shutouts (210) highlights the “year of the goaltender,” and Hartford backstop Jason LaBarbera claims the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL’s MVP. Milwaukee finishes first overall in the regular season and then captures the Calder Cup with a convincing sweep of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the first league championship in franchise history.
The NHL’s lockout of 2004-05 provides the AHL with some of its brightest young talent ever. Jason Spezza rolls to the scoring championship racking up 117 points for Binghamton, while Rochester’s Ryan Miller becomes the AHL’s first 40-game winner in four decades. The shootout is re-introduced to decide a winner of games tied after overtime. And the league experiences its largest numbers ever at the gate, with more than 7.1 million fans attending games throughout North America, including several contests in NHL arenas. Philadelphia, which set an AHL record with a 17-game winning streak earlier in the season, sweeps Chicago to win the Calder Cup championship, clinching the title before 20,103 fans at the Wachovia Center, then the second-largest crowd in AHL history.
Several facets of the NHL’s new rules package are adopted by the AHL, which marks its 70th anniversary in 2005-06. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton storms out to the best start in league history by earning a point in its first 23 games (20-0-2-1). Donald MacLean and Denis Hamel tie for the league lead with 56 goals apiece, and Houston’s Patrick O’Sullivan pots 47 en route to outstanding rookie honors. Hershey, which missed the playoffs the previous two seasons, captures its record-tying ninth Calder Cup with a six-game win over Milwaukee in the Finals.
The Bears seem destined to repeat as champions in 2006-07, finishing with a league-best 114 points in the regular season. Darren Haydar sets an AHL record by recording a point in 39 consecutive games, while Chicago teammate Brett Sterling scores 55 goals, the most by an AHL rookie in 16 years. But the Wolves and Bears both fall in the playoffs to the upstart Hamilton Bulldogs and Carey Price, who duplicates Patrick Roy’s feat from 22 years earlier and leads Montreal’s affiliate to a Calder Cup champion as a 19-year-old goaltender fresh out of junior hockey.
Chicago comes back in 2007-08 and wins its second Calder Cup, holding off Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in six games in the Finals. Wolves forward Jason Krog becomes just the third player to lead the AHL in goals, assists and points in the same season, then duplicates the feat in the playoffs. After leading Hershey to back-to-back Finals appearances, Bruce Boudreau is promoted by the Washington Capitals in mid-season and goes on to capture the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year.
Hershey reaches the Calder Cup Finals for the third time in four years in 2008-09 and wins its record 10th championship with a six-game series victory over Manitoba. Bears forward Alexandre Giroux sets a league record by scoring a goal in 15 straight games, and winds up the fifth AHL player ever to score 60 in a season. Head coach Dan Bylsma is promoted from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in February and leads the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup.
The first-ever outdoor game in AHL history highlights the 2009-10 season, as the Syracuse Crunch draw a league-record 21,508 fans to the New York State Fairgrounds for a meeting with the Binghamton Senators. The Hershey Bears set records with 60 victories and a 24-game home winning streak in the regular season, and Bears forwards Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux are the league’s top two scorers for the second year in a row, with Aucoin nabbing his first scoring title and Giroux hitting the 50-goal mark for the second straight season. In the playoffs, the first-year Texas Stars reach the Finals after winning a pair of Game 7’s in Chicago and Hamilton, but fall to Hershey as the Bears become the AHL’s first repeat champions since 1991.
While the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins cruise through the 2010-11 regular season with 58 wins, the rest of the league engages in several tight races down the stretch. The Binghamton Senators qualify for the playoffs via the crossover as the fifth-place team in the East Division and earn a historic first-round win over Manchester, erasing a 3-1 series deficit by taking each of the final three games in overtime. The Sens would go on to take out Portland, Charlotte and Houston to earn the first championship in 29 seasons of AHL hockey in Broome County.
The Norfolk Admirals put together one of the greatest seasons in AHL history in 2011-12, garnering headlines around the world with their professional hockey record 28-game winning streak. The Adirondack Phantoms and Hershey Bears battle outdoors at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and more than double the AHL’s single-game attendance record when 45,653 fans watch the game. Hamilton hosts Toronto outside at Ivor Wynne Stadium before the largest crowd ever to watch AHL hockey in Canada. Norfolk’s Cory Conacher claims both MVP and top rookie honors, and after putting up 55 victories in the regular season, the Admirals roll to their first Calder Cup with a 15-3 playoff record, sweeping Toronto in the Finals.