Minor professional hockey leagues are the backbone of the NHL. These leagues over the years have served as training grounds for the NHL teams. Entertaining hockey in their own right and offering non NHL players a chance to earn a living.
Minor Professional Hockey Leagues
- All American Hockey League (1987-1988)
- American Hockey Association (1926-1942)
- American Hockey Association (1992-1993)
- American Hockey League (1940-2005)
- Atlantic Coast Hockey League (1981-1987)
- Atlantic Coast Hockey League (2002-2003)
- California Hockey League (1929-1931)
- Canadian Professional Hockey League (1926-1929)
- Canadian-American Hockey League (1926-1936)
- Central Hockey League (1931-1935)
- Central Hockey League (1969-1984)
- Central Hockey League (1992-2005)
- Central Professional Hockey League (1963-1968)
- Colonial Hockey League (1991-1997)
- East Coast Hockey League (1988-2005)
- Eastern Hockey League (1954-1973)
- Eastern Hockey League (1979-1981)
- Eastern Professional Hockey League (1959-1963)
- International Hockey League (1929-1936)
- International Hockey League (1945-2001)
- International-American Hockey League (1936-1940)
- Maritime Major Hockey League (1950-1954)
- Michigan-Ontario Hockey Association (1934-1940)
- North American Hockey League (1973-1977)
- North West Hockey League (1933-1936)
- Northwest International Hockey League (1943-44)
- Northeastern Hockey League (1978-1979)
- Pacific Coast Hockey League (1928-1931)
- Pacific Coast Hockey League (1936-1941)
- Pacific Coast Hockey League (1944-1952)
- Prairie Hockey League (1926-1928)
- Quebec Hockey League (1952-1959)
- South East Hockey League (2003-2004)
- Southern Hockey League (1973-1977)
- Southern Hockey League (1995-1996)
- Sunshine Hockey League (1992-1995)
- Tropical Hockey League (1938-1939)
- United Hockey League (1997-2005)
- United States Hockey League (1945-1951)
- West Coast Hockey League (1995-2003)
- Western Canada Hockey League (1932-1933)
- Western Hockey League (1952-1974)
- Western Professional Hockey League (1996-2001)
- World Hockey Association 2 (2003-2004)
The first leagues to start openly paying players began in the United
States in 1902-03 and over the next few years play-for-pay
leagues wouldstart up across most of Canada and the
northern United States. As these professional leagues
matured there was a need for a developmental system,
or a minor pro system.
When Frank and Lester Patrick folded the Pacific Hockey League/WHL after the 1925-26 campaign, the newly expanded NHL couldn't handle all the pro players available. The result was the formation of the very first minor pro leagues in 1926-27, when four new leagues were started. Two of these, the Canadian-American (Can-Am) league, and the Canadian Professional (Can-Pro) loop combined to form one league, the International-American Hockey League, in 1936-37. This league was the forerunner of today's American Hockey League. In 1926-27, the USAHA also declared itself as professional and was renamed the American Hockey Association, operating without affiliation to the NHL.
The fourth minor pro league to debut after the 1925-26 collapse of major-league hockey in the west was the Prairie Hockey League.
The Pacific Coast Hockey League was formed for the 1928-29 season. There was no league in the west for 1931-32 and a new league called the Western Canada Hockey League, started in 1932-33. The league changed its name to the Northwest Hockey League in 1933-34. By 1936-37 the name was changed back to the Pacific Coast Hockey League.
The American Hockey League was formed in 1940 although it is sometimes noted to have started in 1936. At that time it was known as the International American Hockey League (1936-1940) which was formed from teams in the International Hockey League and the Canadian American Hockey League. As it has been for most of its existence, the American Hockey League is still the top development league for the National Hockey League. Each franchise is required to be affiliated with an NHL team.
With WWII going on the The PCHL folded in 1941, followed by the AHA in 1942. By 1943-44 there was only 12 pro teams in the NHL and AHL combined as most of the best pro players were scattered throughout senior or military leagues all across North America. As the war drew to an end in 1946-47 the new United States Hockey League was formed. The Pacific Coast Hockey League reformed as a senior league in 1945-46, again turning minor pro in 1948-49. The International Hockey League was formed on December 5, 1945, and operated until the end of the 2001 season.
Although the American Hockey League (AHL) and the now defunct International Hockey League (IHL) represented the elite leagues of minor professional hockey in North America other leagues such as the East Coast Hockey League also developed.. The ECHL grew out of the old Atlantic Coast Hockey League (1981) and was set up in 1988 to provide a place for players who were not drafted by NHL teams to develop their skills. Other leagues such as the Sunshine Hockey League and the Southern Hockey League had short lived lives in the annuals of minor leagues.
The United Hockey League, which was founded as the Colonial Hockey League in 1991. The original name was chosen to reflect what was planned as a New England-based circuit, but the league actually ended up placing teams in Canada also. This led to a name change, to the United Hockey League in 1997-98.
The "new" Central Hockey League began operations in 1992-93. The Central Prfessional Hockey League operated 1963 -69 and the Central Hockey League from 1970-84. The original Central Hockey League operated in 1931-35.
Expansion of leagues into the west in the 1990's resulted in the formation of The Western Professional Hockey League, founded in 1996 with six teams, merging in May 2001 with the CHL. The West Coast Hockey League formed in 1995 is no longer operational with the 2003-04 teams now merged under the ECHL.