Sunday, 4 June 2017

IHL's AHL Success

When the AHL and IHL merged, the AHL agreed to absorb the six strongest teams in the IHL. I'm not certain that the AHL ever expected that the IHL teams would have ever been as good as they have, but since the 2001-02 season the former IHL teams have played in a total of ten Calder Cup Championships. That's pretty darn good representation for a league that folded. This year is no exception as the Grand Rapids Griffins, formerly of the IHL, are battling the Syracuse Crunch for the Calder Cup, and the Griffins managed to grab a 2-0 lead in the series with a win tonight. In two games, though, goals have been plentiful including the 6-5 double-overtime win today pulled off by the Griffins. I'm not sure what it is, but these former IHL teams have held their own in the AHL.

If we look back over that span, the Chicago Wolves were the first team to pull off the trick, downing the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in five games in the 2002 championship in the first year of the newly-formed league. The Houston Aeros followed Chicago's win in 2003 with a seven-game thriller against the Hamilton Bulldogs. The Milwaukee Admirals swept the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2004 before the AHL struck back as the Philadelphia Phantoms downed the Wolves in 2005. The AHL would claim one more victory in 2006 when the Hershey Bears downed the Milwaukee Admirals. If you'll note, though, that's five IHL teams in five Calder Cup Finals in five consecutive seasons.

After the 2007 Calder Cup Final saw Carey Price and the Hamilton Bulldogs down the Hershey Bears in the first all-AHL final since 2001, the Chicago Wolves returned to the top of the mountain with a six-game victory over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2008. The Hershey Bears would need six games to down the Manitoba Moose in 2009, and Hershey would repeat in 2010 with a six-game win over the Texas Stars in another all-AHL final. Binghamton would claim the 2011 Calder Cup with six-game series win over Houston. That's eight former IHL teams in ten years to appear in the Calder Cup Final.

The 2012 Final saw the Norfolk Admirals sweep the Toronto Marlies in an all-AHL final, but the Grand Rapids Griffins would claim the 2013 Calder Cup over the Syracuse Crunch in six games. Unlike this year's final, the Griffins won both games at the Oncenter War Memorial Arena in Syracuse before returning to Van Andel Arena to win Game Three to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Syracuse would win the next two games, but a 5-2 victory in Game Six on June 18 was the dagger that ended the series with the Griffins finding them as the best American League team.

The next three championship series all were AHL battles - Texas over the St. John's IceCaps, the Manchester Monarchs over the Utica Comets, and the Lake Erie Monsters over Hershey - but the Griffins found their way back to the Calder Cup Final this season against Syracuse as they renewed their 2013 championship battle. Counting everything up, that's ten Calder Cup appearances in sixteen years. Of the six IHL teams that merged into the AHL, three exist as they were in 2001 - Chicago, Milwaukee, and Grand Rapids. Is it any wonder why these three teams are the most successful of the six teams which included the Manitoba Moose, Houston Aeros, and Utah Grizzlies?

This year's final has played out nearly identical as the 2013 Final between Grand Rapids and Syracuse, although the venues in which Grand Rapids has won have been different. Game One in 2013 was won by the Griffins by a 3-1 score in Syracuse whereas this year's Game One saw Grand Rapids win 3-2 in Michigan. Game Two was a 6-4 victory for Grand Rapids in Syracuse whereas this year's Game Two was a 6-5 double-overtime win on Van Andel Arena ice. If the trend stays as it is, Grand Rapids should win Game Three by a 4-3 score since Game Three in 2013 was a 4-2 victory for the Griffins. In no way should predictions on HBIC be taken as valid and binding, though, unless you're in the business of losing.

If the Griffins do win this series, this will also be the sixth Calder Cup won by IHL teams since the merger sixteen years ago. That's an impressive win percentage for what-is-now three teams in a league of thirty teams. I doubt that we'll see that percentage stay as high as it is, but there has to be some nods given to the longevity of these franchises in these cities as a showing of what stable franchises can build when good people are in charge. The affiliations for two of the three remaining teams haven't changed, but it seems that the Griffins always find success. Milwaukee's work is being seen in the Stanley Cup Final this season as the Predators have promoted many of the good players from the Admirals. Chicago went from St. Louis' primary affiliate last season to becoming Las Vegas' affiliate next season, so we'll see what changes that affiliation brings in terms of Chicago's annual successes.

If you missed Game Two of the Griffins-Crunch series tonight, here are the highlights. Detroit and Tampa Bay, who are division rivals, seem to have a few players who could really bolster their lineups next season if this postseason is any indication of those players' growths. With Tampa figuring out how to manage the cap and Detroit needing a rebuild or retooling, a few of these key players would go a long way in helping their NHL clubs.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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