Today in Puck Planet’s “New to Hockey” series we are going to take a look at professional hockey leagues in North America. Let’s start off with the most well-known of any league in North America.


So you most likely know about the NHL, the National Hockey League, the show, whatever you want to call it. It’s where you want to be. It’s the biggest money maker in North American hockey, and in actuality, the world. Founded on November 26, 1917, this league boasts a total of thirty clubs. Next year though, the league will have a stupendous thirty-one clubs with the addition of the Las Vegas Golden Knights. The final goal for any team that is a member of the NHL is to win the Stanley Cup. To attain the cup teams must have a regular season good enough to qualify for the playoffs. Once in the playoffs, a team must win 4 best of 7 series. If a team manages to do all of that, they win the Stanley Cup. The last team to win the Stanley Cup was the Pittsburgh Penguins. Some big names in this league are Sidney Crosby, a forward who plays for the Penguins, Erik Karlsson, a defenseman who plays for the Senators, and Carey Price, a goalie who plays for the Canadiens.


The AHL, or the American Hockey League, is a very interesting league to look at. It consists of thirty teams all around North America. Each AHL team is affiliated with an NHL team. This means that the AHL club is a feeder to the NHL. When you hear a player being “sent down” from the NHL they’re being sent down to the AHL. The ultimate goal of an AHL team is to win the Calder Cup. Similar to the NHL and every other league in this article is that the way to win the Calder Cup is to win the playoffs. In the AHL, this is done by winning a best of 5 series and then winning three best of seven series. Some notable players of the AHL are Ryan Pulock, a defensemen from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Kenny Agostino, a forward from the Chicago Wolves, and Zane McIntyre, a goalie from Providence Bruins. Watch out for some of these guys, you might see them on the big stage soon.


An average hockey fan will know about the AHL and NHL but the ECHL is where you start reaching some obscure levels of hockey. The ECHL, or the East Coast Hockey League, was started in 1988. It is considered the “third” level of professional hockey in North America under the NHL and AHL. It is similar to the AHL in that it is mostly a feeder league. In the ECHL the goal for a team is to acquire the Kelly Cup. The ECHL’s playoff format is very similar to the AHL and ECHL. It is a four round series in which the last team standing wins. Some notable players form the ECHL are Chad Costello, a forward from the Allen Americans, Matt Register, a defensemen from the Colorado Eagles, and Jake Paterson, a goalie from the Toledo Walleye. A majority of ECHL players will never make it to the NHL but a notable few have like New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss.

The FHL and Other Leagues

These leagues aren’t really necessary to know. They’re really small leagues mostly for really young guys trying to improve their draft stock or players who know they’re not really going to go anywhere and just want to play some hockey. Some even call leagues like the SPHL and the FHL “glorified beer leagues.” The FHL’s future is undeniably hard to guess. But, it’s not looking good. They have been losing team’s, like the Brewster Bulldogs, ever since the league has been founded.


The NWHL, the National Women’s Hockey League, was the first women’s hockey league to pay their players. Founded in 2015, it is also the youngest women’s hockey league in North America. NWHL teams work towards winning the Isobel Cup by it’s playoff system which is the shortest in North America, is only two rounds. The latest winner of the Isobel Cup was the Buffalo Beauts who trumped the Boston Pride in the biggest upset the league has seen. Some notable players from the NWHL are Brianna Decker, a forward from the Boston Pride, Emily Pfalzer, a defensemen from the Buffalo Beauts, Lauren Slebodnick, a goalie from the Boston Pride.


The CWHL, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, is the older version of the NWHL. In the beginning of the league’s life the league was not paying its players, but, soon CWHL players will be paid for their play. The goal of every CWHL team is to win the Clarkson Cup and become the best women’s team in Canada. Their playoff format is the same as the NHWL. There are two rounds that are both best of three to decide who will win the Clarkson Cup.

North American hockey is a vast, vast realm in where the majority of the leagues, you’re probably never going to watch a game from. But, it’s fun to follow the true grassroots of the game. So, what do you want to see next in the “New to Hockey” series? As David S. Pumpkins once said, “Any questions?”

There's A Lot More Than the NHL When it Comes to Leagues in North America
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There's A Lot More Than the NHL When it Comes to Leagues in North America
Today in Puck Planet's "New to Hockey" series we are going to take a look at professional hockey leagues in North America.
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Puck Planet
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Kyle Chouinard

Kyle Chouinard has been an Islanders fan for all of his life. Puck Planet is the first website Kyle has full-time written for. He's looking to learn and create better articles every week.

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