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History of the American Hockey League


1930’s

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Eddie Shore

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 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.

1940’s

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Les Cunningham

Buffalo, which played in Niagara Falls, Ont., before folding 11 games into the 1936-37 season, returns to the AHL when the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium (“The Aud”) 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.

1950’s

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Johnny Bower

Cincinnati joins the AHL in 1949-50, but it is the Indianapolis Capitals who are the talk of the league. Led by future Hockey 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 help 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. George “Red” Sullivan records 89 assists for Hershey in 1953-54, a single-season record that still stands today.

The All-Star Game returns in October 1954, with a team of AHL stars facing the defending champion Cleveland Barons. Zellio Toppazzini wins the scoring title with 113 points and leads the Providence Reds to a Calder Cup title in 1955-56.

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 true Canadian-based team.

1960’s

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Fred Glover

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. The Pittsburgh Hornets return to the AHL in 1961, then leave again in 1967 to make way for the NHL’s expansion Penguins.

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. Pittsburgh prevents Rochester from winning four straight titles when the Hornets 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 general manager Sam Pollock, the Canadiens become the first NHL team to buy an AHL franchise, the Montreal Voyageurs.

1970’s

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Larry Robinson

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, Boston, Norfolk and Cincinnati join the league, while Quebec moves to Richmond and Montreal moves 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.

Cleveland moves to Jacksonville during the 1972-73 season. The Cincinnati Swords are the class of the league, rolling to the 1973 Calder Cup. The Springfield Kings become the Springfield Indians again during the 1974-75 season 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 back-to-back 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, Fredericton, Glens Falls and Syracuse over the next three years. The Maine Mariners win the Calder Cup in 1978 and 1979, becoming the only team in AHL history to win the title in each of its first two seasons.

1980’s

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Jody Gage

The Adirondack Red Wings win the Calder Cup in just their second season (1980-81). The Binghamton Whalers’ Ross Yates (125 points) edges the St. Catharines Saints’ Bruce Boudreau (122) for the 1982-83 scoring title. 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 1984-85 Baltimore Skipjacks win a league-record 16 consecutive games en route to the Finals, where they fall to the Sherbrooke Canadiens and their 19-year-old rookie goaltender Patrick Roy, fresh out of junior hockey.

Paul Gardner follows up a 130-point campaign with 112 points in 1985-86, becoming the first player in over 20 years to win consecutive AHL scoring titles. That same year Adirondack, led by head coach Bill Dineen, captures its second Calder Cup.

Brett Hull explodes into the AHL in 1987, winning the Dudley “Red” Garrett Award as AHL’s top rookie; Hull notches 50 goals with the Moncton Golden Flames in his only AHL season. The AHL employs a shootout to break ties in 1986-87. Hershey wins 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, and Benoit Brunet, who sets a rookie record with 76 assists. But it’s Adirondack that 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.

1990’s

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Peter White

The AHL enters the 1990’s with the Springfield Indians winning back-to-back championships, as the New York Islanders’ affiliate in 1990 and as the Hartford Whalers’ affiliate in 1991. Toronto moves its affiliate to St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 1991-92, and the Maple Leafs and head coach Marc Crawford promptly go to the Calder Cup Finals, where they lose to Adirondack and its head coach Barry Melrose in a memorable seven-game series in which the road team wins every game.

The Binghamton Rangers are the story of the 1992-93 regular season, setting an AHL record with 124 standings points (57-13-10). Rangers center Don Biggs sets the AHL single-season scoring mark with 138 points. But the Cape Breton Oilers ride the record-setting hot streak of Bill McDougall to the Calder Cup championship: McDougall smashes Calder Cup records by posting 26 goals and 52 points in just 16 games during the 1993 postseason.

One year after the Maine Mariners move to Providence, the Portland Pirates join the AHL in 1993-94 and win the Calder Cup 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. The contest is played in front of a sell-out crowd at the Providence Civic Center and is broadcast across North America on ESPN2, TSN and RDS. Albany wins the ’95 Calder Cup by sweeping Fredericton in the Finals, in the same year the parent New Jersey Devils win their first Stanley Cup.

For the league’s 60th anniversary in 1995-96, the AHL is realigned into four divisions and two conferences for the first time, 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 Finals.

The first-year Philadelphia Phantoms compile the league’s best record in 1996-97 and set an AHL mark by winning 19 consecutive home games, 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 their first Calder Cup championship.

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 4-on-4 format in regular-season overtime, and adopts the policy the following year. The 1999 All-Star Game at the First Union Center in Philadelphia draws 14,120 fans, then an event record.

2000’s

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Bruce Boudreau

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 bring a Calder Cup title 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, 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, 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. 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.

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 — 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). 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 does the same 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.

2010’s

Jon Cooper

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. In the playoffs, the first-year Texas Stars reach the Finals 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 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 (20,565). Norfolk’s Cory Conacher claims both MVP and top rookie honors, and the Admirals roll to their first Calder Cup with a 15-3 playoff record, sweeping Toronto in the Finals.

The first three months of the 2012-13 AHL season are headlined by an even greater influx of young talent in the wake of an NHL work stoppage. Justin Schultz’s record pace with the Oklahoma City Barons earns him the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s outstanding defenseman, and fellow Edmonton Oilers budding stars Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also turn hockey’s attention to OKC. Following an affiliation switch to Syracuse, Tampa Bay’s top prospects make a second consecutive trip to the Calder Cup Finals, but the Grand Rapids Griffins — led by playoff MVP Tomas Tatar — bring West Michigan its first championship by prevailing in a thrilling postseason run.

Several standout performances highlight the 2013-14 season, including Chicago’s Jake Allen leading the league in all four major goaltending categories (wins, GAA, save percentage and shutouts) and Toronto’s T.J. Brennan scoring 25 goals and totaling 72 points from the blue line. But Travis Morin earns both regular-season and playoff MVP honors and wins both scoring titles as the Texas Stars go wire-to-wire, finishing with the best record in the league before capturing the franchise’s first Calder Cup.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton rookie Matt Murray sets several records during the 2014-15 season, including the longest shutout streak ever by an AHL goaltender (304:11). The AHL adopts a new overtime format that includes time played at 3-on-3, bringing even more excitement to the extra period. The Syracuse Crunch set an all-time attendance record for an indoor pro hockey game in the U.S. as 30,715 fans watch their game at the Carrier Dome. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are a hit with fans in their first season in Allentown, selling out 22 games at the beautiful new PPL Center. The Utica Comets have a storybook second season in the AHL, from hosting the All-Star Classic in January to reaching the Calder Cup Finals in June. The Manchester Monarchs capture a bittersweet Calder Cup in their final season in the Queen City.

The AHL’s geography changes dramatically in 2015-16 with the formation of a Pacific Division and the addition of five teams in California. The Manitoba Moose also return to the fold as the Winnipeg Jets’ new top affiliate. Two long-standing league records fall, as San Jose’s Roy Sommer passes Bun Cook to become the winningest head coach in AHL history, and Rockford’s Michael Leighton surpasses Johnny Bower’s mark for career shutouts. Ontario’s Peter Budaj wins 42 games, the most by an AHL goalie in 55 years, and leads the league in wins, GAA, save percentage and shutouts. The AHL’s 80th-anniversary season ends with a Finals matchup between two of the league’s most tenured cities, and the Lake Erie Monsters complete a 15-2 postseason run with a sweep of Hershey to bring the Calder Cup to Cleveland for the first time since 1964.

Kenny Agostino runs away with the AHL scoring title and earns MVP honors in 2016-17, helping the Chicago Wolves to a division title. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton finishes with the best regular-season record in the AHL while continuing to develop Stanley Cup champions: 2016-17 AHL All-Rookie forward Jake Guentzel leads the NHL with 13 playoff goals as Pittsburgh wins its second straight title. For the second time in five seasons, the Grand Rapids Griffins defeat the Syracuse Crunch in six games to capture the Calder Cup.

In 2017-18, the AHL welcomes fans in Laval and Belleville to the league. Several AHL players represent their countries at the Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, including Stockton’s Cody Goloubef, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Christian Thomas and Belleville’s Chris Kelly, who win bronze with Canada. Lehigh Valley needs five overtimes to beat Charlotte in Game 4 of their playoff series, the longest game in AHL history. The Toronto Marlies set the pace from start to finish, leading the league with 54 wins and 112 points during the regular season before outlasting Texas in the first seven-game Calder Cup Finals since 2003.

The Colorado Eagles join the AHL in 2018-19, bringing the league to 31 teams for the first time. The Utica Comets continue to fill the Adirondack Bank Center and set a new league record for consecutive sellouts. Recalled from San Antonio on January, Jordan Binnington goes on to backstop the St. Louis Blues to their first Stanley Cup championship. The Charlotte Checkers roll to the regular-season title, then capture their first Calder Cup with a five-game victory over Chicago in the Finals.