The 2.0 launch of the Interstate Hockey League is still roughly 10 months away, but today the league took the first steps in solidifying their spot in Michigan hockey by announcing details of how the league will work for the upcoming season, including the number of teams, tryout camp dates, and the length of the season.
A quick refresher, the IHL attempted to start-up last fall with six teams in the eastern part of Michigan, but a number of problems, including one of the league’s founders passing away in the build-up to the season, forced the league and Commissioner Drake MacKenzie to push the start of the league back to 2019.
The IHL aims to be a senior league/semi pro-type league, based mainly in Michigan to start.
“We have had a rough start, but through the help of many in the hockey world, we have certainly made it to a better spot then we where last year and we are very excited to bring affordable, exciting and professional style hockey to 10 communities in the state of Michigan,” MacKenzie said. “Again, we thank all of you for your patience and understanding as there was certainly a learning curve to this style and level of hockey.”
In Friday’s release, the IHL announced that it aiming to start in October this fall, and announced that there are 10 teams on board for the first season, with the names and locations of the teams to be announced in the coming weeks. According to MacKenzie, the league’s 10 cities “set in stone, barring something absolutely catastrophic.”
The IHL says it plans to play a 36-game season in the first year, playing an even schedule of four games against each team, with the Top-4 teams qualifying for the playoffs, where each round will be a Best-of-3 format.
The league also announced that things will heavily pick up starting in July, with three prospect camps in three different areas across the state to try to reach as many players as possible, and announced that all 10 teams will begin a season ticket drive in July, with full season ticket packages being $70 for every team. During the season the IHL plans to make admission to every game $5, making it some of the most affordable hockey we’ve ever seen at any level.
One other change the league announced was a large influx of sponsors and investors in the league, dropping the player fee for the season to just $100 per player. The hope is that the lower player fees will lure in better talent, potentially including former junior, college, or pro players.
Perhaps most interesting, in the release the IHL took aim at the Federal Hockey League, and were not shy about their goals of trying to overtake them, despite being only in Michigan at the moment.
“The Interstate Hockey League expects to be able to compete with the Federal League at a skill level, with a number of former junior/college and professional players being contacted about playing,” the release stated. “We also expect to outclass the Federal League in terms of an entertainment product.”
This is certainly an ambitious goal for the IHL, and honestly will be a challenge in the first season and possibly beyond, because for all of the FHL’s faults, it does have nearly a decade as a league, and seems to be stabilizing with what appears to be six strong teams at the moment. Not to mention, the FHL does pay players, and even at the $150 a week minimum, that more than the IHL is paying players, if any get paid at all.
And while there are some teams that are certainly lacking in gameday atmosphere, teams like Carolina and Elmira have made their games a first-class experience for fans in those towns.
It will be interesting to see how exactly they plan to surpass the FHL, but there have been rumors that they are eyeing certain markets in Michigan that the FHL had been in talks with, and could have an inside track to beat them to those rinks.
So the IHL has taken the next steps in hitting the ice, and having 10 teams set to go, plus very low player fees will certainly make it an appealing option for players looking to play competitive hockey that isn’t just local men’s league. We’ll keep our eye on the league as the teams are officially announced by the league in the weeks and months to come.