As the Allen Americans face the South Carolina Stingrays in the 2014-15 ECHL Kelly Cup Finals, one has to wonder how this small suburb north of Dallas, TX nabbed a championship hockey team. The history of hockey in North Texas isn’t long, but it’s interesting, if not rife with hooliganism.
The Dallas hockey scene doesn’t possess the heritage inherent to the NHL’s Original Six markets. Fewer hockey fans born and bred in North Texas grew up playing pond hockey and appreciating the sport on a personal level. While hockey isn’t as popular in the South as the almighty football, the game has always served as the glue for a smaller, tight-knit community of fans and players. Since the first teams formed in 1941, Dallas and Fort Worth were home to several legendary minor-league rivalries. Now North Texas is host to rich minor-league hockey legacy that continues nearly 75 years later.
Dallas Hockey’s Early Years: 1941-1949
Before hockey hit its stride in North Texas, Dallas hosted the Dallas Texans of the American Hockey Association in the 1941-42 season, and again from 1945-1949 in the United States Hockey League. Debuting at the Fair Park Ice Arena on November 6, 1941 versus the St. Paul Saints, the team played before a crowd of 4,273 fans. The Dallas Morning News described the season opener like a sideshow:
“the most dangerous game in the world…murder on ice, it has been called…with playing speed, flashing blades and crashing bodies.”
The rivalry between the Dallas and Fort Worth minor-professional hockey teams was also born in this era, as the Fort Worth Rangers played during the same years as the Texans. When former Dallas Texan player, Paul Runge, went to coach the Fort Worth Rangers, the rivalry ignited. In their final season, the Dallas Texans served as a farm team for the Montreal Canadians before dropping out of the USHL with the Rangers in 1949.
The first pro hockey team in Texas was the Dallas Texans who joined the American Hockey Association in 1941. pic.twitter.com/XrTgddT9Bq
— Texas Sports History (@TXSportsHistory) March 28, 2015
North Texas Rivalry Enters the Modern Era: 1967-1982
Minor-professional hockey would not return to Dallas for another 18 years when the St. Louis Braves set up shop as the Dallas Black Hawks. New fans of the sport are often surprised to see a Dallas Black Hawks logo for the first time. In fact, an old Black Hawks sign hangs over the bathroom hallway at the Katy Trail Ice House Outpost in Plano, TX; a reminder of North Texas’ hockey heritage. With no knowledge of Central Professional Hockey League history, the logo looks like Central Division sacrilege between two rivals, the Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks.
Indeed, the Dallas Black Hawks were not only a Chicago farm team, but progenitors of a modern Dallas hockey fanbase. Established in 1967 and playing at the State Fair Coliseum, the Black Hawks developed an intense rivalry with the neighboring Fort Worth Wings, a team who began their inaugural season that same year at Will Rogers Coliseum. In the late 60s, the only professional sports competing for attention in Dallas were the Dallas Cowboys and the Dallas Chaparrals of the American Basketball Association. With the Texas Rangers and Dallas Mavericks just a glimmer in the city’s collective eye, Fair Park was still the epicenter of Dallas sports.
The Black Hawks lasted 15 seasons in Dallas, appearing in the Adams Cup finals through 10. By the end of their tenure in Dallas, the Black Hawks won the championship four times. Three of those wins came under Coach Bobby Kromm, later the head coach of the WHA Winnipeg Jets and the Detroit Red Wings. John Muckler later took the reins for the Black Hawks fourth Adams Cup win in 1979, going on to win the Stanley Cup behind the Oilers bench in 1990. Needless to say, the Dallas Black Hawks were in good hands.
The Fort Worth Wings, later renamed the Fort Worth Texans, dominated the Central Hockey League in the western half of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex during the same time span, 1967-1982. By the time they folded, the Wings had only one Adams Cup championship, a 5-4 overtime win versus the Black Hawks in 1978.
Both teams were known for their rowdy behavior with brawls breaking out both on ice and in the stands. Following their final Adams Cup win in 1979, the Dallas Black Hawks beat the Salt Lake Golden Eagles 6-4. After the victory, the team proceeded to the International Dunes Hotel where they threw furniture off the seventh-floor balcony, and both goaltenders, Curt Ridley and Ed Walsh, were arrested. Earlier in the 1978-79 season, the Wings hosted a 10-Cent Beer Night at Will Rogers Coliseum, an event that turned into a near-riot following a bench-clearing brawl.
In 1973, John Husar of the Chicago Tribune reported on the exhilarating team in “Big D”:
“I always thought hockey was taken seriously in Chicago Stadium. But you’ve got to bring a tourniquet to the games between the Dallas Black Hawks and Fort Worth Wings in the Central Hockey League. This may be the most blood-thirsty rivalry in sports.”
Husar added that even Coach Kromm “battled in the stands” and the trainer, Wayne Reid, was once nearly arrested during a game.
Minor Leagues Compete with The NHL: 1992-1999
After the Dallas Black Hawks and Fort Worth Texans folded in 1982, North Texas wouldn’t see professional hockey again until 1992. When the Dallas Freeze and Fort Worth Fire brought the Central Hockey League back, they also rekindled the hockey rivalry in the region.
During their three years playing in Dallas, the Freeze made the playoffs twice, but were knocked out after losing to Tulsa and Wichita in seven games during each run. The Fort Worth Fire played at the Fort Worth Convention Center from 1992-1999, surviving the Minnesota North Stars’ move to Dallas until the Stars’ 1999 Stanley Cup win.
When the Norm Green moved the Minnesota North Stars franchise to Texas just one season after the Freeze and Fire’s inception, the NHL took control of the hockey market in North Texas. The minor-league teams attempted to compete, but couldn’t make it with a scrappy new major-league team in Dallas proper.
Last CHL game I saw was Dallas Freeze-Fort Worth Fire at the State Fairgrounds. Minor league hockey has come a long way since then…
— Rick Gosselin (@RickGosselin9) March 20, 2013
Allen Americans Carry the Torch: 2009-Present
As the two-time, reigning back-to-back Ray Miron President’s Cup Champions, the Allen Americans now have the championship series tied up 3-3 with the South Carolina Stingrays. Their former league, the Central Hockey League, folded in 2014. The seven existing teams were then absorbed into the ECHL. Known for a greater number of highly competitive teams, ECHL provided a wider array of competition that the Americans had not yet seen. Allen later began the 2014-15 season hoping to prove their success in a new environment.
Early in the season, the seven remaining CHL teams struggled in their sporadic bouts with the original ECHL teams. The Americans were no exception. While they dominated the new Central Division, the Americans also struggled, leading fans to wonder how they would fare versus the original teams in the 2015 playoffs. Since the CHL expanded to include Allen in 2009, the team never missed the playoffs, taking the Berry Conference in 2011 and 2013. Allen finally won their first championship versus the Wichita Thunder in 2013, and then versus the now defunct Denver Cutthroats in 2014. In 2015, the Americans continued this victorious pattern, battling the Ontario Reign to take the Western Conference this year.
— Allen Americans Blog (@allenamericans1) May 16, 2014
Before the Fort Worth Brahmas officially went inactive, their rivalry with the Allen Americans grew heated. In 2009, the Dallas-Fort Worth hockey rivalry was back on, but moved to the suburbs. The rivalry was fueled by the CHL’s small size and the proximity of both teams. As fans from each team could easily visit the rival’s arena, fights often broke out in the stands, reminding local hockey fans of the 1970s rivalry between the Black Hawks and Wings. During one incident in February 2013, 26 police cars surrounded the NYTEX Sports Center to tame the fracas among fans.
These two teams also played each other frequently in the small, low-budget league, causing the players’ resentment to fester. While the Americans went on to win a second CHL championship, the Fort Worth Brahmas folded following the 2012-13 season, killing the age-old rivalry.
Dallas Hockey Holds a Rich History and a Growing Legacy
Despite playing in a non-traditional market, minor-league professional hockey has thrived in the Dallas-Fort Worth region since the 1940s. Due to the natural rivalry between the twin cities of North Texas, and a growing population of northern transplants in recent decades, hockey survived. Since the Dallas Stars moved in during the 1993-94 season, the number of full-sized rinks grew to include their Dr. Pepper Star Centers. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is now home to 18 full-sized sheets of ice, and thousands of recreational players.
With the Allen Americans’ success, minor league hockey has taken hold of the bedroom communities north of Dallas. The Dallas Stars’ ongoing rebuild and 2014 playoff stint also contributes to the growing local fanbase. As the region nears 75 years since the sport’s introduction to North Texas fans, it’s clear that the winter sport is growing in an unlikely, yet worthy environment.