ALLEN, Texas – With the NHL lockout in place and less than a month away from the start of the 2012-13 season, two Central Hockey League teams, each situated less than 30 miles away from the American Airlines Center, offer Dallas Stars fans an exciting option for their pro hockey fix.
The Allen Americans and Texas Brahmas will resume an already storied rivalry with two pre-season tilts set for October 12th and 13th. The teams last met on April 10th, when the Brahmas eliminated the Americans from the Southern Conference Finals with a 4-2 Game Six win on home ice.
Since their first meeting during the 2009-10 pre-season, the two clubs have channeled some of the great Dallas-Fort Worth area rivalries dating back to the 1940’s when the Dallas Texans and the Fort Worth Rangers of the American Hockey Association, and following World War II the United States Hockey League, introduced the sport to North Texas.
The Americans and the Brahmas not only provide one of the league’s most competitive rivalries, it’s also one of, if not the most physical. For example, during the playoffs last season, the Americans’ Brett Clouthier and the Brahmas’ Ryan Hand exchanged blows – at the ceremonial puck drop before the game! If that’s not shocking enough, several Americans players once jumped a Brahmas player during the pre-game warm-ups, in retaliation for what they considered a dangerous hit on their goalie in a previous contest.
The Americans are the Stars’ CHL affiliate and play at the 6,275-seat Allen Event Center, located within the 181-acre Village at Allen, which also features 1,000,000 square feet of large format retail, specialty shops and restaurants. Single game tickets at the venue range in price from $16-$35.
The team entered the CHL as an expansion team in 2009 and quickly made a name for themselves as a formidable presence in the league. In their brief history, the club has gone 128-51-17 during regular season contests. However, in three straight playoff appearances, Allen went 19-20 and was eliminated four games to two in the President’s Cup Finals following their inaugural season.
In May, the Americans began making changes in order to take the team in an even more successful direction. First, they dismissed Head Coach & GM Dwight Mullins along with Associate Coach Bill McDonald. Then in June, the organization announced the hiring of Steve Martinson as Mullins’ successor.
Martinson, 54, played 13 seasons of professional hockey, followed by 16 seasons as a head coach. He led the San Diego Gulls to five Taylor Cup Championships (1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2003) in the West Coast Hockey League. He also led the Rockford IceHogs of the United Hockey League to a Turner Cup Championship (2007). Last season, Martinson led the expansion Chicago Express (ECHL) to a 34-26-0 record, but missed the playoffs – the first time in his coaching career.
In addition to the hiring of Martinson, the team welcomed former Dallas Stars players Mike Modano, Ed Belfour, and Craig Ludwig as minority owners, joining current majority owner Doug Miller, owner Steve Duchesne (a three-time NHL All-Star and was a member of the 2001-02 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings) , and minority partner and Team President, Matt Canavan. Also, former Stars defenseman Richard Matvichuk was named the team’s new defensive coach.
The Texas Brahmas began play as the Fort Worth Brahmas in the Western Professional Hockey League in 1997 and immediately made an impact, winning the league’s Governor’s Cup (regular season champions) and earning the home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. That advantage worked in their favor as they defeated the Austin Ice Bats three games to two in their first-ever playoff performance. The Brahmas then easily defeated the Shreveport Mudbugs in a four-game sweep before being swept themselves in the championship series against the El Paso Buzzards.
The Brahmas had more success during the 1998-99 season and the club once again won their first two playoff series, only to be defeated by the San Angelo Outlaws in the Conference Finals. Unfortunately, the Brahmas’ level of play diminished over the next several years and by the end of the 2005-06 season, the team had finished last in their division for the fourth season in a row. During the off-season, the club was unable to come to terms with the City of Fort Worth to play at the city’s convention center and was forced to go dark as they sought a new venue to call home.
In 2007, following a one-year hiatus, the team moved to the suburb of North Richland Hills, and began play as the Texas Brahmas at the NYTEX Sports Centre, a mixed-use indoor facility with a 2400-seat main rink. Led by rookie head coach Dan Wildfong, who was known as one of the most aggressive and competitive players in the Western Professional and Central Hockey Leagues during his eight-year professional career, the Brahmas fought their way to a 40-22-2 record and a trip to the Northern Conference Finals only to suffer a heartbreaking loss in the final minute of a forced Game Seven against the defending champion Colorado Eagles.
In 2008-09, the Brahmas steam-rolled their way through the regular season and into the President’s Cup Finals and defeated the Colorado Eagles to win their first CHL Championship. The team, which is in the processing of completing a sale to a group of local investors, has since made three more trips to the post-season, but has yet to make it back to the Finals. This season, the Brahmas will reportedly play at the Fort Worth Convention Center as well as the NYTEX Sports Centre. Single game tickets range in price from $13-$35.
The level of play in the Central Hockey League isn’t for every Dallas Stars fan – many consider the AA league to be nowhere near the standard of the NHL, but for the money, it may be the most entertaining option for any sports fan this fall. And besides, come October, it’ll be the only pro hockey in town.
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