Two of minor-league hockey's three AA-level hockey leagues have decided to join forces. The IHL, in which the Komets have won three straight playoff championships, will affiliate with the Central Hockey League next season.
"We plan to play under the Central Hockey League, CHL, moniker, with the identity of the IHL being maintained through various aspects that will be announced in the near future," a joint press release read.
The IHL hopes to maintain its brand in some form under the umbrella of the CHL, which is a subsidiary of the publically traded Global Management Corp., with independently owned teams.
"The two leagues each have long-standing histories and share the common goal of solidifying minor-professional hockey for our players, our passionate fans and their communities," IHL commissioner Dennis Hextall said. "I believe this arrangement will enable our teams to recruit the best young talent to join our league, with the potential of improving their game and moving up to the higher leagues."
Komets president Michael Franke said fans throughout IHL cities will be pleased with the improvements that come with a partnership with the CHL.
"Over the course of the last three years, fans have been concerned with the size of the IHL, having only six or seven teams," Franke said. "I think that has created a nervousness for some fans, though I don't think that's been seen in Fort Wayne. … We have finally have met a partner in minor-league pro hockey that basically shares the same vision for making it better or giving it a better shelf life. It's the first time that we've been able to sit down with another league and say, 'This all makes sense.'"
Most of the details will be worked out during the CHL meetings this week in Gilbert, Az., and the IHL meetings June 21-23 in Las Vegas. That's where the teams will hammer out details such as length of season, salary cap, roster makeup and a proposal for a collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Hockey Players' Association.
"I wish there were more details that could be given (now), but most of those issues will be hammered out at our meetings," said Bob Hoffman, the CHL's director of operations. "We will give more details later on things like divisional alignment. … It's too premature to look at too many of (the possibilities) or comment on them. We do want to marry the teams with our on-ice rules. We feel this is an agreement that will enrich the sport."
While the IHL had six teams, only four of them are, so far, part of the agreement, Hextall said, and they're Fort Wayne, Quad City, Bloomington and Dayton. Flint, which lost in the Turner Cup Finals last season, is in search of new ownership. Asked about Port Huron, one of the IHL's flagship franchises, Hextall said: "I don't have a good answer yet on that."
There has also been no word yet on possible expansion to Evansville for this season.
The CHL, which had 15 teams last season, is expected to maintain 13 in the new collective.
Komets center Colin Chaulk said a move to the CHL will be good for the players, who have been concerned about their job stability in the IHL, and for the fans.
"I think this is cool. It's great," Chaulk said. "The fans in Fort Wayne will get to see some different competition and it will give some stability to the league as a whole."
While the Komets had discussions with the ECHL about joining that NHL-affiliated league, Franke said it was clear an agreement with the CHL was a better option.
"This will also allow us to not have to worry about continuous call-ups and our team being raided at or around playoff time," Franke said. "This will allow the Komets, Bloomington and other teams to maintain the sanctity of their teams."
"We're not against players developing and going up, but (the CHL model) does allow us to keep what we think our fans are very interested in, and that's the relationship with the players and being able to bring back guys year to year."
- Why is everyone so averse to calling this a merger? That's the million-dollar question. I think it's important to remember that's a legal term and it's complicated, when you have a publicly held company like Global Entertainment Corp. Also, there are egos involved. The IHL doesn't seem to want to give up its record book and trophies and staff.
- Look for teams to be able to play, say, around six veterans next season, it sounds like.
- I'm told that Port Huron and Flint aren't necessarily out of the CHL; they just wouldn't commit without knowing the details.
- Why are details so vague? Frankly, the CHL and IHL didn't want to announce anything, but because of all the media reports, they felt they better release something.