After the news came down Friday night that the USACHL and its four teams were done for, all of it folding in less than a week, it got us at BLH wondering: just how often do entire leagues fold in the middle of a season? Because at the low levels of hockey, teams folding mid-season is an almost yearly occurrence, but an entire league?
Turns out, it happens far more often than you think.
We did some digging and found a number of leagues that called it quits before a championship could officially be decided, all mostly for the usual reasons of no money, no marketing, and a lack of viable teams.
Presented in no particular order, here are some of the more notable leagues from the modern era that disappeared mid-season.
American Hockey Association (1992-93)
The AHA attempted to bring semi-pro hockey to the northern plains with five teams in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
Much like the USACHL, all five teams were owned by the league founders, led by a man named Charlie Hodgins. The league lasted into late January of its first season, including an All-Star game and exhibitions against the Russian Red Army team, but called it quits on January 29, with no championship awarded.
Weirdly, there wasn’t even a chance for one team to claim the title, because at the time the league folded, the Fargo-Moorhead Express and St. Paul Fighting Saints were tied at 46 points each in the standings with each team playing 30 games. Other teams in the league included the Green Bay Ice, Minnesota Iron Rangers, and Bismarck Bulls.
Continental Elite Hockey League (2001-2004)
Technically, this league didn’t fold mid-season but deserves a nod because of when it did.
The CEHL was a Junior A league mainly in Michigan and Ohio that operated outside of USA Hockey jurisdiction, and played three seasons, and also allowed 21-year-olds to play to try to create more playing opportunities for players that aged out of juniors.
The league became infamous for pulling the plug on October 4, 2004, just before the 2004-05 season was slated to start, when Barry Soskin (yes, that Barry Soskin) pulled his club from Traverse City. What caused an uproar aside from ending things on the eve of the season was that the league had held tryouts and charged players to play, but obviously never played a game.
International Independent Hockey League (2003-04)
The IIHL was sort of like a very regional version of the AAHL or FHL, but obviously didn’t last nearly as long.
It started with six teams mainly in Michigan and Ohio, and lasted less than a month, with just three teams playing more than six games before the league called it quits in January of 2004.
One of the six teams, the Tri-State Hurricanes, never played a game, leaving the league with just five teams at the start of the season. The Lansing Ice Nuts posted an 11-1 record before the league folded, while the Northern Michigan Predators went 4-4, the only other team to win multiple games in the short-lived league’s history.
Other teams were the Motor City Snipers, Ohio Valley Ice Cats, and Soo City Mavericks.
North East Professional Hockey League (2009-10)
The NEPHL was another precursor to the FHL, that was slated to play with four teams, but things went bad from the start when two teams backed out on the eve of the season due to a founding member of those teams having major heart surgery. Thinking it was a bad idea to have a league that had just two teams, the Boston Wings also called it quits before the puck was dropped.
The Rhode Island Storm and the newly added New York Aviators decided to start the year alone, and “mid-season” the “league” added the Connecticut C-Dogs (seriously that was the name).
The league didn’t technically fold mid-season but basically did after they went from planning on 44 games, to 30, to 20, to 15 due to the C-Dogs having no money. It got so bad that the league made up the playoffs on the spot, having the C-Dogs play the Storm in a Best-of-3 series that were all in Rhode Island because the C-Dogs cancelled their ice time at their home rink…and then the C-Dogs forfeited a playoff game.
The Aviators won the championship in a 2-0 sweep, and days later the league folded with only the Aviators surviving and jumping to the FHL.
North Eastern Hockey League (2003-2008)
First off, let’s note how much time was probably put into that league logo. It’s Times New Roman font, BUT WITH ITALICS! And a hockey player and a star and a maple leaf! I’m going to go with six minutes.
The NEHL is actually one of the longest lasting leagues to fold mid-season, this despite never having more than four teams in any season.
The NEHL was another FHL-type league that hoped to move players up to higher leagues.
The NEHL also holds the distinction of being one of the few leagues that went dark and then returned. After the inaugural season in 2003-04, the league sat out the 2004-05 season, then returned in 2005-06…only to play six games before again suspending operations. Amazingly they again came back in 2006-07 with four teams, and made it through the entire year with the New England Stars going 20-0 and 2-0 in the playoffs to win the last championship in league history.
The league made it to January 2008 before calling it quits, ending the run for the Copper City Chiefs, Findlay Freedom, Kensington Valley Pounders, and Norfolk (not that one) IceCats.
Pacific Hockey League (1977-79)
The PHL was a rare low-level pro league out west, with its seven teams based in California, Arizona, and for some reason, Washington, and came about to sort of be a feeder to the WHA.
Four teams took the ice in the first season in 1977-78, with the San Francisco Shamrocks downing the Phoenix Roadrunners 2-1 for the title.
The league actually added three teams during the off-season, but immediately saw two teams in San Francisco and Los Angeles fold, leading to the league cancelling the playoffs, awarding Phoenix the title because they had the best regular season record, and then immediately folding as a whole.
Southern Elite Hockey League (1998-2000)
Like the name suggests, the SEHL was a southeastern-based Junior A league that did not operate under USA hockey, with four teams in Florida, one in Alabama…and one in Chicago. That classic southern city, Chicago.
The Alabama Gunners, playing out of Pelham (home of the current SPHL Bulls) had a 13-game winning streak during the first year…then folded after 24 games, allowing the Space Coast Blast to win the title.
The league played a pretty normal regular season in 1999-2000 with the new Pelham Prowlers winning the title.
Oddly, there is little information out there about what happened after that, but in the league suspended operations during the 2000-01 season, and never came back.
Southern Hockey League (1973-77)
The SHL was a low-pro league that started after the Eastern Hockey League split, with obviously, it’s southern teams starting up a new league, and eventually becoming the feeder league to the WHA.
The league had the usually problems over its first three seasons, including just four of the original six making it to the end of the first season. They played with five teams in the second season, and by the third season had six teams.
Then in the 1976-77 season, things quickly fell apart as three of the seven team folded by January, and another in Winston-Salem pulling out. The league was down to three teams, and considered a round-robin playoff, or playing games against IHL teams, but ultimately didn’t do either and folded on January 31, 1977.
Some notable teams from the league include the first version of the Charlotte Checkers, Greensboro Generals, Macon Whoopees, and the Baltimore Clippers, who transferred in from the AHL.
Southwest Hockey League (1975-77)
The SWHL was not pro hockey, but sort of like a senior junior league, with players being 18-and-up, and going to school while playing. Teams gave the players room and board, tuition for a local college, and a $60 monthly stipend. Kind of think of it as college hockey for towns that didn’t have college hockey, but where players could move on to the NCAA or pro hockey after.
The league also really wasn’t Southwest, while it had teams in Amarillo, Albuquerque, El Paso, and Reno, it also had teams in Butte and Billings, Montana for some reason. Not at all Southwest.
It turns out having to pay for players’ college tuition as well as other costs is just as much as paying them salaries, and the SWHL was running out of money fast, with Amarillo one of the only teams who had enough fan support to be a viable team.
In the middle of the second season, the Amarillo Wranglers owner sued the SWHL, forcing the team to change its name to the Amarillo Lone Stars, who never played with a logo, and borrowed jerseys from the team a Minot, North Dakota so they didn’t resemble the Wranglers.
The writing was on the wall for the SWHL, and on January 24, 1977, just past the halfway point of the SWHL season, the league and all six of its teams folded. The Tucson Icemen were crowned champions in the final season by virtue of having the best record at the time the league went under.
Mid-Atlantic Hockey League (2007-08)
The MAHL was a league based in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio and played the opening season with five teams that all played 30 to 32 games, and actually had none of the fold or move during the season, which makes their folding even more odd.
The league folded on February 12, 2008 with the Indiana Ice Miners being declared champions after going 31-1 and leading the league by 32 points.
The league gained national recognition…in the wrong way, when the Jamestown Vikings found out the league was folding and decided to trash a local lodge in Jamestown, because they thought it was owned by the guy who owned the team. He did not in fact, own the lodge. The incident resulted in the team planning to relocate to Ohio as the Lake Erie Vikings, but they never played, obviously, as the league did not return in 2008.
The league swore had plans to play with seven teams in 2008 after shutting down in February, but the new league owners toured the teams they had set to play, then decided to take their team, the Battle Creek Revolution, to the AAHL along with the South Shore Shooters, and the remaining five teams that were set to play folded for good along with the league.