What’s the hockey future for Wichita Falls, Laredo, and the Rio Grande Valley?

Remember how we posted earlier in the week about how not all the news and stories we post on here are positive, and there’s a reason for that? This is one of those posts.

I know this is kind of jumping the gun (Narrator Voice: It is not jumping the gun) and assuming that the USACHL is dead, but when only the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees are reported to be in good roster standing, and then you see a video of them take the ice and they have 10 players. It’s hard not to think the league is dead. Or when parents and players are posting in USACHL groups about how they are leaving Laredo and thanks for the memories, it’s hard not to think the league is dead. Or when they attempted to fly in a really legit German team only to say it was too expensive (definitely a lie that those games were ever seriously close to happening), effectively cancelling this weekend’s games, it’s hard not to think the league is dead. Or when two of your four teams have already folded, a third has done everything but admit they’re done too, it’s hard to not think the league is dead. Or when the arena in Wichita Falls reports that the check the USACHL sent them to try to play last weekend’s games bounced, it’s hard not to think the league is dead.

But enough about what’s happened in the last 24 hours, yes really, that all happened within the last 24 hours.

Once the news hit that Wichita Falls was folding, we’ve had a number of people ask us about what other options the teams in Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley might have, and we’ll do our best to answer those questions honestly.

Could the teams jump to a new league this year?

No. Absolutely not, for a number of reasons.

No league worth its salt is going to let two random teams from out of nowhere join up mid-season. Schedules have already been set and games have been played, so you can’t just add a new team or two suddenly after 20 games. How would playoffs work, or the rest of the regular season?

And on top of that, even a league like the WSHL or NA3HL for some insane reason did add a team mid-season, where would these teams find players? Laredo is down to basically nothing, RGV had 10 players from what we saw, and that’s not enough to put a team on the ice. You figure you need at least 16 players, enough for three lines and a goalie, and probably 17 so you have a backup goalie just in case an injury happens.

And then you’d have two teams who were free-to-play teams jumping over to pay-to-play leagues, which would be insanely unfair to the other teams in the league and players on Laredo and RGV, because more than likely you’d have to charge them to play. And I’d guess that if you charged someone to play after promising it was free, they aren’t sticking around.

So again, in summary, no, Laredo and RGV are not jumping to a new league this year, and barring a miracle or some glorified pick-up games, there won’t be hockey in either town for the rest of the season.

Could they join a new league next year?

Doubtful, and let me explain why.

The big problem with Laredo, RGV and Wichita Falls coming back under the USACHL umbrella is that the league and Bill Davidson owned all four teams, there was ZERO local ownership or involvement in this other than the arenas and sponsors. So because there isn’t a local owner behind the team, they can’t just say, “Hey, we’re leaving the USACHL because things aren’t right with this, and we will pursue other league options next season.”

Basically, and it would be an insanely short turn-around to make it happen, you would need a local owner to step up from out of nowhere and say, “We’re bringing hockey back to Laredo/RGV/Wichita Falls, and we hope to join the WSHL or NA3HL next year.” And to answer another question, no, the NAHL is not allowing these teams in, even with Laredo drawing over 3,700 fans to the first game, because there have been basically no rumors about the league wanting to expand at this moment.

Realistically you need a local owner to step up and announce that they are creating an entirely new team, that likely wouldn’t be named the Bucks or Bees since Davidson and the USACHL likely own those names, and have them make that announcement like tomorrow. Because as we saw with the Texas Lawmen and Wichita Falls, who were both announced over the summer, when you get a start that late, you’re basically dead on arrival.

Maybe you can wait until about the end of the NA3HL or WSHL seasons to have that announcement, but you basically need no less than six months to get everything in order. But again, you need somebody local behind the ownership group, and I’d venture that since Laredo and RGV went so long without hockey, there isn’t exactly a long line of people ready to invest their money in a hockey team.

So at best, I’d bet you’re looking at 2020 for hockey in either region, if it ever comes back at all.

What about a pro league?

Also no.

We touched on this yesterday with our piece about the west not having low-pro hockey, but there are literally zero unaffiliated pro hockey leagues and teams west of the Mississippi River, so Laredo, RGV, and Wichita Falls are not getting teams in the SPHL or FHL.

Really, the only hope of low-pro hockey returning to these cities is if someone made an FHL-type league (teams run on a budget of around $500k), that had six cities (let’s be real, you need at least six teams for it to be a league) on board for something you could call the Lone Star Hockey League, with our three previous USACHL cities, then maybe teams in like Lubbock, Abilene, Beaumont, Texarkana, Waco, San Angelo, or wherever you need to go to get six teams.

But like our issue with joining a new junior league, it’s probably taking at least two years, if not more because it’s an entirely new league that needs to do more than just add a team. So even if something like the LSHL were to start up, and let me be clear it is not and we have heard no rumors of anything like that starting up, it wouldn’t likely take the ice until 2021 at the earliest.

So to make a long story short, hockey is likely done in these three markets for at least the next couple years. And if you made me rank the likelihood that hockey ever comes back to these cities, I would say Laredo has the best odds of getting a team in the future, followed by RGV, and then it would be extremely unlikely that hockey ever makes a return to Wichita Falls, as much as that pains me to say.

So, I’m sorry to hockey fans in these markets, you were sold a bag of magic beans that barely lasted a month.


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