CENTRAL HOCKEY LEAGUE
(1963 - 1984)
The roots of the CHL go back to the old Eastern Professional Hockey League created by the NHL in 1959. The league essentially converted Senior Hockey teams in Ontario and Quebec into professional teams. What the NHL was looking for was a place to put many of their top players without interference. At that time, AHL and WHL teams were much more independent than they are now and the NHL wanted more control over the development of their players.
The league struggled financially and by 1962, was down to just four teams, one of which had already moved States-side to Syracuse. The Syracuse team was drawing less fans than a local Junior team and they moved midseason to become the St. Louis Braves.
In 1963, the three remaining teams left in Canada were relocated to larger US centers and the Central Professional Hockey League was born. The NY Rangers added the St. Paul Rangers to league and in its first season the league had five teams. Unfortunately, the first season did see tragedy in Indianapolis. Three weeks into the season, their arena burnt down and Detroit relocated the franchise to Cincinnati.
In 1964, Toronto set up the Tulsa Ice Oilers and the league was now a six team league mirroring the NHL. Detroit's move to Cincinnati proved short-lived as they packed up the team again and sent them to Memphis.
Team moves were common in the CHL. In 1965, Boston moved their team out of Minneapolis and into Oklahoma City and Montreal moved their team out of Omaha and into Houston. The following year, New York took their team out of St. Paul and into the recently vacated Omaha market.
In 1967, expansion in the NHL had a major impact. The St. Louis market was lost to the NHL and the team moved to Dallas. Meanwhile Detroit moved out of Memphis and into Fort Worth. The newly formed Minnesota North Stars of the NHL set up a farm team in Memphis called the 'South Stars'. Likewise, the St. Louis Blues of the NHL set up the Kansas City Blues. At the end of the season, the league shortened its name and became the Central Hockey League. However, the original name could still be found on the backs of pucks as late as 1975.
The league grew again in 1968, when the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL set up the Amarillo Wranglers. This would prove to be the highpoint of the league.
In 1969, the Montreal Canadiens decided to pull their Houston Apollos out of the league and set up close to home in the AHL. Also, the Amarillo Wranglers struggled and the franchise was suspended for one year only to fold shortly after. The Memphis South Stars were also relocated to Des Moines, Iowa where they played only one season before suspending operations.
In 1972, the league nearly came to an end. The formation of the WHA drained much of the talent of the league. Boston had also set up a new team close to home in the AHL pulling the plug on the Oklahoma City Blazers. The St. Louis Blues also shut down their Kansas City Blues. The league was suddenly down to just four teams and played an interlocking schedule with another devistated league, the WHL.
The league rebounded slightly in 1973 when they added the Albuquerque Six Guns and a new team was set up in Oklahoma City.
The following year, the WHL folded. Three of its teams joined the CHL giving the league a short-lived boost. Both the Seattle Totems and Denver Spurs lasted just one season. The Salt Lake City Golden Eagles, however, proved to be a good addition outlasting the CHL.
Fan support in the league dropped further in the 1970's as teams and affiliations became more fluid. There was little continuity from season to season on which fan support could be built. The league continued to struggle.
In 1977, the league added the Phoenix Roadrunners. This former WHA team did something very unusual in their only season in the league. The team left midseason to join another league. A new West Coast league (PHL) was formed at Christmas and Phoenix left the CHL and joined the new league.
In 1979, the CHL got another boost when the WHA folded. The league added four former WHA markets (Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Birmingham and Houston) and was once again back up to nine teams. For the next three seasons, the league managed to start the year with nine teams but suffered through numerous relocated, expansions and contractions.
By 1982, the writing was on the wall for the CHL. They lost three of their oldest markets when the Dallas Black Hawks, Oklahoma City Stars and Forth Worth Texans did not start start the year. They started with just six teams, two of which were new.
In 1983, the league started with just five teams. Both Wichita and Birmingham packed it in while the league tried to make a go of it in Montana. During the season, the Tulsa Oilers who had been in the league since 1964, could no longer make a go of it in Tulsa and finished the season in Denver. The league also played against both the Canadian and US Olympic teams and counted the games in the standings but this gimick couldn't save the league. The league folded in 1984 with Indianapolis and Salt Lake City moving on to join the IHL.
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