Playing on the ice has always been a fun winter pastime, but hockey as it’s known today took shape in 1875 in Montreal, Canada. By the 1880s, hockey leagues had formed, and by 1920, hockey found a place in the Olympic Games. Today, the National Hockey League (NHL) is the most popular of the various professional leagues, but before players make it to this level, they must make a name for themselves in the American Hockey League.
The American Hockey League (AHL) is a minor league that consists of 30 different teams in North America. Three of the teams (the Manitoba Moose, the St. John’s IceCaps, and the Toronto Marlies) hail from Canada. The remaining 27 teams come from all across the United States. Players must be at least 18 years old to join, but once you’re in, a $500,000 contract with an NHL team is a tantalizing goal to reach for.
The AHL was formed through the combination of two smaller leagues, the Canadian-American Hockey League (C-AHL) and the International Hockey League (IHL), in 1936. In 1942, the AHL held a special All-Star Game to raise money for the war effort. Canada officially joined the AHL in 1959 with the introduction of the Quebec Aces to the team lineup. A decade later, in 1969, Canada again made AHL history through the first purchase of an AHL team, the Montreal Voyageurs, by an NHL team, the Montreal Canadiens. Today, AHL teams are either owned by or have strong affiliations with NHL teams.
Without the AHL, NHL teams would have a much smaller pool of talent to select from. Additionally, the AHL provides the crucial stepping stone between recreational and junior league players and a career in the major leagues. As the hockey season progresses, NHL teams carefully observe which players could be put to the best use in certain areas. Some AHL players have two-way contracts, meaning that they earn more money if they’re called up to the NHL. At the end of the season, the champion AHL team is awarded the Calder Cup, named after the first president of the NHL. It’s a great accomplishment as well as a subtle reminder that the NHL’s Stanley Cup could be the next achievement for a promising player.