Friday, February 11, 2005

THE UHL GETS MORE PLAYERS

Bryan Smolinski and Sean Avery have become two more NHLers who've found alternative employment. They've joined the Motor City Mechanics of the United Hockey League.

That means there are now four Red Wings on the Mechanics team, which plays in the Detroit suburb of Fraser, Michigan. At least the fans in Detroit get to see pro hockey. The UHL also has a team in the suburbs of St. Louis, the Missouri River Otters. Needless to say, the lockout has been great for this league, considered the lowest of the low in North America as far as pro hockey is concerned.

A lot of people are calling these NHL players hypocrites because the United Hockey League operates with a salary cap. These bigshot players say they're against a cap, yet here they are playing in a league that has a cap. What a farce. Well, that's what you get in a labour war: NHLers taking spots away from players who play for the love of the game. Frankly, this is starting to give the minor leagues a bad name. Now if you go to minor league games you are essentially supporting the NHL players and what they're doing. You can't escape them anywhere.

But at least the UHL is playing hockey. So you might as well follow them, eh?

For those of you wondering, the UHL has been in business for over a decade and is now largely based in the cities that made up the old International Hockey League before that league went national and expanded across North America. The IHL put teams in places like Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and Winnipeg while they were busy squeezing the small longtime IHL franchises in Kalamazoo and Fort Wayne out. Those franchises had to withdraw from the IHL for the UHL because they were losing tons of money flying to Atlanta or San Diego for games. Sort of a big market/small market scenario. Sound familiar? In spirit, then, the UHL is just the continuation of the old IHL, with many of the same cities like Flint, Port Huron and elsewhere.

About the only franchise left from the "old" IHL that stayed to the bitter end was Milwaukee. For a long time it was the biggest market in the league and it fit right in with the new direction that the IHL went in the 1990s. That city made noises for a long time about wanting to join the NHL, but the NHL ultimately priced itself out of Milwaukee's range and they never came close to getting a team. The fans must be really happy it never worked out, because they still have a team to cheer for at the arena, playing actual games! Same with the fans in Hartford and Winnipeg who lost their NHL teams. Those fans look like big winners today.

Anyway the "new" IHL went completely belly-up, and Milwaukee, Manitoba, and four other teams were forced to join the AHL. Several other leagues like the ECHL and the Central Hockey League have lost franchises and had to absorb teams from other leagues that also went belly-up. The UHL has managed to escape the problems that other North American leagues have experienced and have continued to steadily expand, placing franchises in solid hockey markets with long histories of supporting minor league teams.

For those of you interested in listening to United Hockey League games on the radio, tune in to Fort Wayne Komets games on 1190 WOWO with the legendary Bob Chase behind the mike. The signal for that station goes pretty far into Canada. Chase has been calling Komets games on the radio for something like a hundred years. Really.

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