Movers and shakers

While the off season excitement in the NHL is centered around the draft, free agents and trades, for the lower pro levels, there is sometimes some major makeovers from one season to the next.

For example, in the American Hockey League, ever summer, sees parent teams deciding to move from one city to another for various reasons. Sometimes teams are added and others fold. For the most part though in the Midwest, there has not been much movement this season.

The biggest change is in alignment as the Lake Erie Monsters moves into the Midwest from the North Division while the Iowa Wild moves out of the Midwest and into the West.

The recent trend is for NHL teams to acquire American Hockey League teams that are relatively close so that players can move back and forth quickly.

Four of the five NHL Midwest based teams have top level farm teams in the Midwest as well. Players from the Rockford Ice Hogs can be at the United Center in Chicago in just over an hour and the Minnesota Wild has it’s farm team, the Iowa Wild, at Des Moines,  a relatively short trip — at least for minor pro players who are accustomed to long bus trips.

St Louis used to have its team within a short drive at Peoria and is now a few hours further down the road as the Chicago Wolves operate in the north side suburbs of Chitown.

The Grand Rapids Griffins are less than two hours away from the parent team in Detroit.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are the lone exception, its farm team operating out of Springfield. There are also two other Midwest based AHL teams — the Milwaukee Admirals a longtime farm club for the Nashville Predators and the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland who provide a home for the top prospects of the Colorado Avalanche.

The most successful of these teams last season was the Grand Rapids Griffins who looked to defend the 2012-13 Calder Cup championship and ultimately bowed out to the eventual 2013-14 champion Texas Stars in a tough six game Conference semi-final series. The Chicago Wolves also reach the Conference semis, falling to the Toronto Marlies

Other playoff teams last year included the Milwaukee Admirals who reached the post season for a league best 12th straight season, but ran into a tough Marlies team in the opening round. The Ice Hogs missed a post season berth by just four points and they along with the Monsters and Wild are both looking to get back to the post season third year.

On the Eastern side, the Columbus backed Springfield Falcons finished on top of the Northeast Division but came up short in a first round playoff series against Providence.


The biggest news/rumor from the Tier II level of Minor League pro teams is talk of a possible future merger between the East Coast Hockey League(ECHL) and Central Hockey League (CHL). However, a rumor is all that is right now and it looks like it wont have any affect ton the current season as both teams have already put out schedules for the season.

Most successful Midwest team from the ECHL in 2013-14 was the Cincinnati Cyclones who topped the East Conference before bowing out in the Kelly Cup championship series to the Alaska Aces. The Cyclones are also affiliated with the Predators and Milwaukee Admirals.

The Fort Wayne Komets also had a solid playoff run, earning an opening round series win against the Reading Royals before falling to the Cyclones in the Conference semis. The Komets moved from Central Hockey League to the ECHL two seasons ago and are currently affiliated with the Colorado Avalanche and Lake Erie Monsters.

The only other Midwest based team to reach the post season was the Kalamzaoo K-Wings, a second tier team of the St. Louis Blues/Vancouver Canucks who exited in the first round after a hard fought six game series with the Greenville Road Warriors.

Among the non qualifiers last sason was the Toledo Walleye, affiliated with the Red Wings and Griffins as well as the Evansville Icemen who work in conjunction with the Blue Jackets and Springfield Falcons.

New this season is the Indy Fuel, a team that will work together with the Blackhawks and Ice Hogs this season.

It appears the Minnesota Wild has no involvement in the ECHL.


But the Wild does have a solid affiliate in the Quad City Mallards who fared  best of the Midwest based teams in the Central Hockey League this past season.

Technically, the Missouri Mavericks had a better season, finishing on top of the CHL standings with a 40-20-2 record, but the Mavericks found themselves upset in the opening round of the post season by the number eight Arizona Sun Dogs in six games.

Two other Midwest based teams finished among the league’s top eight: the fourth place Rapid City Rush and the fifth place Mallards from Quad City. The battled through a seven game series, the Mallards moving on to the semis after a 3-1 win in Game 7.

The Mallards ran into the eventual Presidents Cup champion Allen Americans in the semis, going to the sidelines in six games.

Midwest based teams that will be looking for make the jump after missing out on the post season last include the St. Charles Chill, an affiliate of the St. Louis Blues and the Wichita Thunder.


The Southern Professional Hockey League has just one team out of the Midwest Region, the Peoria Rivermen. formerly of the American Hockey League. Now independent in the SPHL, the Rivermen finished third overall last season with a 30-18-8 record, finishing just five points behind the second place Louisiana Ice Gators but a distant 13  behind the Pensacola Ice Flyers who won both the William B Coffey Trophy as regular season champs and the President’s Cup as the playoff champions.

The Rivermen had a short playoff run, winning the first game of its Best of Three playoff series 2-0 against the Columbus Cottonmouths, before dropping 6-1 and 4-1 decisions to finish their playoff run.

One other Midwest team played in the league last season, the Bloomington Blaze finishing 10th and last overall with a 20-33-3 record. The team has since folded as Bloomington will instead enter the United States Hockey League the top level of junior hockey in the nation this season.

In my next blog post I will highlight the Midwest region’s involvement in all three levels of USA junior hockey.

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