Puck Drops in October for the Killer Bees

Fifteen years ago hockey was introduced to the Rio Grande Valley. Twice the ice melted and the State Farm Arena continued with the sport.

Recently, the USA Central Hockey League, newly created league consisting of teams from Laredo and Wichita Falls announced the return of hockey to the area, but with a few changes.

Changes that Troy Mick, a managing partner with the league thinks will help be more successful than the previous model.

For example because of the territory and travel the previous league models were difficult to sustain. The current model, which is an Under 20 junior league, will all be based in Texas. So expenses automatically are cut in half.

“It's night and day because all the the teams will be in the Texas area,” Mick said. “The league will be up to five teams and be with the vicinity to make sure that year one we have our I's dotted and our T's crossed, eventually moving forward.”

Also adding to the cost saving model will be having the players being amateurs. Salary tends to eat up the majority of the expenses. These players will be hoping to move into the ranks of the NCAA, which means they cannot be paid. The coaches are in place and for about a month they have been recruiting the best players in the world.

“Because we're an independent league we can recruit from all over the world,” Mick said. “We don't have limitations on imports.”

In other leagues like in Canada and USA Hockey, leagues are limited to four or six imports. The USA Central Hockey League will have players from Russia, Germany, Switzerland and Canada. The player pool for the league becomes greater without any restrictions.

Mick said rosters are being filled just by the recruiting the coaches have been doing and as the league takes the next steps to grow, the talent will come to fill the 23 spots on each team.

The season will consist of 48 games, splitting in half home and away. There will be a playoff in April to claim the first champion of the USA Central Hockey League.

The league will own and operate every team. Down the line Mick said there might be a franchise opportunity but for now, especially for year one, they control all the markets and teams.

“You won't have to be sitting around a board room and have six to eight opinions on how to run the league or run the team,” he said. “We're going to run them all the best way we know how.”

If one team is falling behind on revenue Mick and his partners will make the trip to make sure the right people are in place to make the model work.

Which also becomes something that will help in the long run because the model is set, if another city wants to have a team all USA Central Hockey League has to do is present the model.

Mick admits the first year is always interesting and exciting but there is more work due to not starting one franchise but five.

Ultimately when the puck drops in October, Mick, who himself was drafted and signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins will feel exuberant. But he knows it will only last for a few minutes because there will be more work to be done.

“We already have other teams from other leagues that are calling wanting to be members in year two,” he said. “Right now we're just focusing on this year, we have to make the fan experience exciting, we have to make people to continue to come to the games and we have to put the environment in place so when the puck drops.”