New Hockey Fan’s Guide to Leagues

Sure, everyone has heard of the NHL, but it isn’t the only professional hockey league in North America. From hometown hockey up through the ranks, learn what leagues exist and how you can watch your new favorites.

Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL)

If you watched Scott Darling help protect the net for the Chicago Blackhawks during their 2015 Stanley Cup Championship games, you’ve seen what the SPHL can do for the NHL. Darling moved up the ranks from the SPHL, through the ECHL and on to the big time. Players like Darling on the 10 teams of the SPHL hit the ice every season in hopes of claiming the President’s Cup before they move on to the Stanley Cup. Stream SPHL games live when you want to witness tomorrow’s hockey today.


Once known as the East Coast Hockey League, this AA league is now referred to as the ECHL with teams stretching across the continent. The ECHL is divided into two conferences, Eastern and Western, and four divisions: North, Mountain, Central and South. Each of the 27 teams is affiliated with both an AHL and NHL team, and players can be called up at any time to play for their team affiliates. The ECHL playoffs culminate in the hoisting of the Kelly Cup. All games can be streamed live if you can’t make it to the ice.

American Hockey League (AHL)

The AHL is a single-A league divided into an Eastern and Western Conference with four divisions: Atlantic, North, Central and Pacific. All 30 teams are affiliated with one of the NHL teams and serve as the development team for their affiliate. Players move between the ECHL, the AHL and the NHL as they’re needed. Like the NHL, the 16 best teams compete in the post-season. Winners of the AHL Playoffs get to hoist the Calder Cup at the end of the season. If you can’t make it out in person, live streaming games are available.

The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL)

Hockey isn’t just for guys. The NWHL is the first league to pay women for playing hockey. Started in 2015, the four women’s teams compete against each other for the Isobel Cup. These four teams play in Boston, Newark, Buffalo and Northford. You can’t stream their games live yet, but you can watch recorded games to see the action.

No matter what kind of ice action you’re looking for, there’s a league full of promise with plenty of seats. Check out your local teams and get in on a piece of hockey’s future today.

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