Today I’m experiencing mixed emotions. On the one hand, I’m ecstatic that the NHL season is beginning tonight (even though my Coyotes don’t open their season until tomorrow night). On the other hand, however, I’m saddened by the loss of the Central Hockey League. I worked in the CHL for four seasons, beginning with the WPHL/CHL merger of 2001. I had worked the four previous seasons with the Western Professional Hockey League’s Lake Charles Ice Pirates. When Lake Charles didn’t make the cut for the merger, I went to work for the Lubbock Cotton Kings for a season, then spent the next three seasons with the New Mexico Scorpions. Having been through one of these mergers before, I know what people are going through. For the teams that make the cut (in this case, all of the remaining CHL teams), there is joy at the 11th hour salvation of your hockey team. For several WPHL teams, there was no joy. Thousands of fans lost their hometown teams that they loved so dearly. I’ve seen that happen all too many times, and it never gets any less painful for those involved. Luckily, this ECHL/CHL deal spared several teams and their fans that pain. I only wish this deal would have come along in time to save the Arizona Sundogs and Denver Cutthroats, two CHL teams that suspended operations over the summer. Rumor had it that both teams closed up shop in the hopes that they could hook up with the ECHL after sitting out a season (to avoid a legal conflict owing to a non-compete clause with the CHL). If that truly was the case, I hope that they can get things sorted out so that those teams may join the ECHL later. Otherwise, that’s two more fan bases without a team to root for. This strategy doesn’t always work. I know there are still people in Bossier and Shreveport hoping to see their beloved Mudbugs take the ice again one day. As a former rival of theirs, I hope to see that too.
The Central Hockey League has a long and storied history. In actuality, there were two professional leagues that went by that name. The Central Professional Hockey League began play in 1964 as a feeder league for the NHL. They shortened their moniker to Central Hockey League in 1968. I guess they figured the Professional part was implied. Either that, or truth-in-advertising laws became an issue. In any case, the “old” CHL was the premier minor hockey league for the better part of a couple of decades, with teams stretched at various times from Tucson, Arizona to Birmingham, Alabama and from Cincinnati, Ohio to Seattle, Washington. They finally ceased operations in 1984. A new league sprouted up in 1992 with teams in six of the old Central League cities. Some of the teams reused the names of the previous teams to attract the old fans, and since hockey fans love history and tradition it only made sense to revive the CHL name. The “new” CHL had operated continuously ever since, until yesterday.
The Western Professional Hockey League began play in 1996 with five teams in Texas and one in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They doubled in size the following year with their first expansion, adding three teams in Louisiana and three more in Texas. After competing with the Central League for expansion cities, the WPHL merged with the CHL in 2001, keeping the CHL name and logo for its history and brand recognition. Eventually, all of the old WPHL teams folded (the Fort Worth Brahmas were the last to close up shop after the 2012-13 season).
I was excited about the merger in 2001 because it meant a lot of new cities and arenas. It did not disappoint. Some of the cities were a real pleasure to travel to, with great old buildings and enthusiastic fans at every turn. I really miss the CHL (and the WPHL). I have many great memories of my time in the league, and I made some lasting friendships that I will always cherish. I was sad to see the league struggling over the last few years, along with the constant rumors of the league’s impending demise. I’m glad that at least the remaining teams will continue on in the ECHL, which is a great league. I’m saddened by the loss of the CHL, but the ECHL is now stronger than ever. I take comfort in that.
But then…that’s just me.