After days of record-breaking rainfall, residents of Houston and many gulf coast communities in Texas and Louisiana are finally experiencing the reprieve of receding flood water. But, with reprieve comes the confirmation of the damage left behind and the long road of returning to normalcy.
That road is best traveled together. Once again, from the ashes of a devastating event comes a reaffirmation of many people’s faith in humanity. The outpouring of support for Houston and the surrounding areas has been incredible. Whether it’s J.J. Watt sponsoring a $14.7 million to-date fundraising campaign, first responders and volunteers risking their lives to rescue others or something as simple as a kind thought, they are all part of a response that has been collectively heartwarming.
Then I wondered, what about the hockey community? Are we doing our part to help those in need? Despite the sport’s lack of strong and direct ties to the impacted areas, it’s apparent that the hockey world has begun to lend a helping hand.
Houston’s Hockey History
Hockey and Houston are anything but synonymous, but the city has a history with the sport.
The modern-day version of the Houston Aeros was formed in 1994 as an expansion team in the International Hockey League (IHL). The IHL collapsed in 2001, at which time the Aeros joined the American Hockey League (AHL). The AHL continues to serve as the primary professional development league for the National Hockey League (NHL).
The Aeros were generally a successful franchise during their 19 years in Houston. They won two championships, the 1999 Turner Cup and 2003 Calder Cup, and competed and lost in the 2011 Calder Cup final. The Aeros made the playoffs in 16 of their 19 seasons.
Despite Houston being far from a traditional hockey market, the Aeros also posted respectable box office numbers. During their final season (2012-13), the team averaged 6,793 in attendance, ranked seventh best in the AHL that year. Strong attendance, though, wasn’t enough. The inability of the Aeros’ ownership group and Toyota Center to come to terms on a new lease agreement in 2013 ended the franchise’s time in Space City. The team, principally owned by the Minnesota Wild’s ownership group, relocated to Des Moines, IA and was renamed the Iowa Wild.
The namesake of the modern-day Aeros was the World Hockey Association’s (WHA) version of the same. The WHA’s Aeros existed from 1972 to 1978. During that short time, they were arguably Texas’ most successful sports franchise, winning two league titles and finishing runner-up once. Perhaps that organization is best remembered for their most prominent player, the late “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe.
The 1970s Aeros ceased operations one year before the WHA did the same in 1979. Now, despite some limited but ongoing hope of an eventual NHL expansion into the Houston market, the Dallas Stars are the NHL’s geographically-closest team at some 240 miles away.
NHL and Players’ Association Donation
Despite the NHL’s lack of a direct tie to the Texas gulf coast, the league and its Players’ Association (NHLPA) announced a joint contribution of $200,000 to the Harvey relief effort. The joint donation, made by two groups that don’t often agree, will be split evenly between the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org) and Habitat for Humanity (www.habitat.org). It is a generous donation but begs the question: could the two organizations have done more?
In September 2005, the NHL and NHLPA joined together to donate $1 million to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. That donation came two months after the end of a 10-month lockout (that was largely the result of the NHL losing more than $270 million during the 2002-03 season due to inflated player salaries). According to Forbes, the NHL’s 30 teams combined to generate $440 million in 2015-16 operating income.
With respect to the NHL’s peer leagues, both the MLB and NBA, joined by their respective players’ associations, have each announced $1 million contributions towards Harvey relief. A joint contribution by the NFL and NFLPA has not been announced as of this writing.
While the NHL’s announcement left some wanting, the act was nonetheless one in which fans and the hockey community can take pride.
Separate from the league and players’ association’s joint announcements, a number of teams across the league are also stepping up to support the cause.
What better place to start than with the team named after these havoc-wreaking storms. The Hurricanes’ relief drive is underway and runs through September 8th. Participating in the effort, in which fans can bring an array of donations to PNC Arena, are Hurricanes’ president Don Waddell, general manager Ron Francis and starting goaltender Scott Darling. All three have or will be present at various times to accept donations.
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) August 31, 2017
Also using a destructive natural occurrence as their name, the Avalanche organization has joined the fundraising effort. The team, along with Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, pledged to match up to $10,000 in fan donations to go towards the Red Cross. Some of Colorado’s players, including Erik Johnson and Matt Nieto, participated in the Red Cross’ Hurricane Harvey telethon, which raised more than $500,000 to be pledged towards relief efforts.
The Panthers organization is among the most recent to announce aid for the communities impacted by Harvey. The Florida Panthers Foundation has pledged a donation of $50,000. Walmart, a partner with the organization, has matched the donation and will continue to match donations made through this link up to $10 million (at a rate of $2 for every $1 donated).
The Panthers are also hosting a blood drive on September 8th at BB&T arena. Every person who donates blood will receive two tickets to a Panthers pre-season game.
The remnants of Harvey have dumped heavy rain and caused flooding across areas of Nashville. The Predators, who captivated the city with their first conference championship and Stanley Cup Final appearance last season, are stepping up in relief of the gulf coast.
The Predators and their charitable foundation are running an online auction that will feature a number of game-worn items.
In addition, a limited ticket offer has also been created to allow 100% of certain ticket proceeds to be contributed to the relief effort. Donations in kind are also being accepted at Bridgestone Arena.
Following suit with their NHL-affiliate Hurricanes, the Checkers of the AHL have also organized a relief drive. Donations can be made to the Red Cross through the Checkers’ website. Those who donate will receive a free ticket to the Checkers’ October 29th game.
Corpus Christi IceRays
The IceRays are a junior club playing in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) and might be the hockey team most adversely and directly affected by Harvey. The club announced on August 30th that they were able to resume normal operations at the American Bank Center and that all players and personnel were safe post-storm.
The IceRays also announced that players and staff would be going to hard-hit areas such as Rockport and Port Aransas to help distribute supplies and aid in the rebuilding process.
Some players are taking relief efforts into their own hands and doing what they and their foundations can do to aid residents along the gulf coast.
Bogosian, a defenseman for the Buffalo Sabres, has been actively involved in charitable causes through The Bogo Bunch, a not-for-profit organization founded by Bogosian and his wife. The Bogo Bunch has launched a GoFundMe page in support of the Houston Food Bank and has raised over $9,000 to date.
Cam Talbot and his wife Kelly are initiating Operation Edmonton Helps Houston. Kelly Talbot’s family is from the Dallas-Forth Worth area, and the destruction left by Hurricane Harvey hits close to home. The operation was born from the idea of shipping excess baby formula down to Texas for those in need. When reaching out to the Edmonton community to assist in the endeavor, Kelly received more support than she imagined.
Now, the entire City of Edmonton is helping in the cause. Check out the complete story in this link.
The Toronto Maple Leafs forward has been active in promoting fundraising efforts through his charitable foundation. Kadri has been asking for support from Americans and Canadians alike and recently joined the NHL Network’s Jamie Hersch to discuss his fundraising involvement.
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) August 31, 2017
The Road Ahead
I’m sure the above list is not all-inclusive and likely omits many organizations and individuals that have publicly or privately aided the gulf coast in the aftermath of Harvey. I’m also sure many parties will continue to announce their contributions in the days and weeks ahead.
Those impacted by Harvey have a long road to hoe but the hockey community and the rest of America stand ready and willing to help rebuild the Texas gulf coast.
Providing passionate and pragmatic views on the Chicago Blackhawks as well as coverage of the Rockford IceHogs. Raised in Northern Illinois, I was fortunate enough to have my Dad immerse me in the best game on Earth. Pond hockey, weekends at various ice rinks, attending minor league games, and trips to the old barn (Chicago Stadium) are part of the fabric of my youth. Regular attendee at the United Center during the “lost decade”. Blackhawks STH since 2007.