The last several years have seen a constant state of flux regarding what is classified as “single-A hockey.” While there is no Professional Hockey Players Association sanctioned single-A league, there are some sub-CHL leagues that feed up to the CHL and ECHL albeit informally.
The Southern Professional Hockey League is the most established of the single-As. Since 2002 the oft renamed league has favored low to mid level markets from Lafayette LA to Miami to Richmond VA. This year’s upstarts were the Augusta RiverHawks, the city’s first pro team since losing the ECHL Lynx early in the 08-09 campaign. They finished four points shy of the regular season title before getting swept in the President’s Cup Finals by the Mississippi Surge. Out of Biloxi, the Surge are a sophomore entry who took the place of the ECHL Sea Wolves. The SPHL has decent enough talent to justify paying a couple bucks to go see, and it’s usually a good entertaining and physical game. I once saw a trainer ejected for squirting water into the stands, nevermind brawls like this one from the playoffs in 2010:
The league only stands to improve in 2011-12, as the CHL Mississippi RiverKings are joining as the ninth member club. That’s right, Mississippi vs Mississippi game program is going to need a fold out cover just to fit the matchup on it. This is a good move for the Southaven (MS) ‘Kings though. As a Memphis suburb it makes more geographic sense than the CHL’s heavy presence in Texas, Colorado and Arizona. The SPHL’s upcoming 10th Anniversary season should be a good one.
Below the SPHL is where the leagues start getting a little sketchy. In roughly the same time frame as the Southern Pro, there has been a small and largely inconsistent batch of semi-pro/pro leagues from New England to Michigan. A lot of the leagues would fold mid-season only to resurface later, with another never to get off the ground. The All-American Hockey League announced on June 16th that they were suspending operations for the 11-12 season after three years of moderate failure. The Battle Creek Revolution won the Rod Davidson Cup in 2011 by defeating a team relocated/reformed midseason by combining three folding teams. If someone scores and no one sees it, does it really happen?
The Federal Hockey League is entering their second season. Unlike the AAHL these guys actually played an entire season, save one team that averaged 215 fans a game who retired three weeks early. At this level that’s close enough to a full year for me. The winner of the imaginatively named Commissioner’s Cup were the Akwesane Warriors. They are the sole non-American entry in the league as they play on a reservation straddling the US and Canada border. There will be four expansion teams added next year – bringing a total of nine – at this point in the off season. This is usually the point that makes or breaks a league at this level. If nine teams start the season and they finish with at least six, they can consider it a success. The FHL was won by Mohawks, I’m betting they’ll stick around a while.
Those are your bush leagues. Tomorrow I’ll touch on the Central Hockey League, who has plenty of team movement and uncertainty this off season.