Texas and college hockey don’t necessarily strike anyone as a stellar combination, but the sport is alive and well in the state. In fact, it’s nearly thriving. East Texas Baptist University came to town to face off against the Fightin’ Texas Aggies but first, the alumni game. I was allowed the special opportunity to crash alumni weekend as a group of close friends, on the verge of brothers, extended the invitation. For the sake of the article, I’ll refrain from names, as they know who they are.
As an added bonus I was introduced to a pivotal piece of their college experience in the form of an assistant coach. Again no names needed. Regardless, it would be the beginning of what would become one of the best pure hockey talks to date.
If you know about College Station then you know about the bars on Northgate ferociously bussing, heavily loaded tacos at Fuego, the landmark known as the Dixie Chicken, and C-Stat’s better version of Raisin Canes, Layne’s. All of which were involved. (Naturally.) What I was not expecting was flying so close to the sun that I was a mere text message away from having to strap on goalie pads for the first time in my personal hockey career. Sometimes it’s better to just dive in the water rather than dip your toes in, right? FEAR NOT. A warm body made the sacrifice and took my spot delaying my EBUG call-up for another day.
The alumni game went as you would expect. Watching the boys relive a little of their glory days for a few shifts until lungs began to collapse, skates began to break, and bodies started to rebel. It was my first experience watching an alumni game of any capacity and I’d happily do so again.
Now most stories would end with a slightly tilted stumble back to the hotel thanks to Northgate but this night had a calmer tone that led to “Guys bein dudes.”
With all the boys huddled around the hotel lobby and a case of Coors Light, story after story was sauced around. Conversations about those that couldn’t make the trip and catching up on families and how they have grown. Having spent the better part of the last 4 years trying my hand at writing and blabbering about hockey, it was a surreal evening. I didn’t grow up playing hockey. I wish I had. I do now and I love every moment of it.
Being able to be in a circle like that and being active in those conversations are the memories that hockey purists build their character around. It’s hearing about experiences that the sport affords people that are like no other. Forming bonds that go beyond the the ice. Turning strangers into friends and friends into families.
A hockey family. Ferda.
As for college hockey in Texas? It is alive and well. The stands at the Spirit Ice Arena in College Station were nearly filled to capacity with fans being full invested from puck drop to the final buzzer.
It was game two of a back to back between the Tigers of ETBU and the hometown Aggies and there was plenty of carryover from the Friday night tilt. The boys on both sides delivered in a monster way. Trading knockout punches literally and metaphorically. Now, it should be said that fighting is not allowed in college hockey. Did that stop punches from flying well into the post game scrum? Not a chance. The hockey definitely had it’s holes but the product on the ice was some of the most entertaining skating I have seen in a hot minute. Every check was finished with the absolute cruelest of intentions and at the end of the night the visiting Tigers stole the away victory 4-3.
It won’t be the last time I write about college hockey growing in Texas as the Allen Americans (ECHL) announced the first ever Americans College Classic. Gathering four schools from Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex to showcase the growth of the sport over the last few years.
College hockey in Texas is currently at the club level only, but strides are being made to bring more eyes to the product. Being cautiously optimistic, with the help of the professional clubs in the state and the growing amount of youth picking up the sport I would not be surprised if at least one college program in Texas made serious strides towards becoming a D1 program. Arizona State and Penn State paved the way as a former American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) programs that received sizeable donations and announced their intents to compete at the Division 1. With the schools in Texas being under the same banner in the ACHA it wouldn’t come as a shock for an alumni with an affinity for hockey to stir the pot with their alma mater and pushing the limits of the college hockey in the south.
The weekend spent in College Station gave me hope that hockey can and will continue to succeed at all levels. It also gave me a deeper love for the sport and everything that comes with it. In the spirit of Aggieland all I can say to that is thanks and Gig ‘Em.