In what turned out to be the ultimate Friday evening news dump, word began to leak out of Laredo and McAllen, Texas that the USACHL’s two remaining teams, the Laredo Bucks and Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, were calling it quits, effectively ending whatever was left of the newly formed USACHL.
The league lasted about five months on the ice, playing maybe 20 of the 30ish games that had been schedule to this point, and really, it’s amazing the league lasted that long.
The USACHL was not a new idea seemingly from out of nowhere. For a couple years there was talk of it being the C1HL, and basically being what the USACHL hoped to be: A free-to-play junior hockey league in the old Central Hockey League markets that even tried to steal away a couple teams from the WSHL in El Paso and Oklahoma City to get things going.
Needless to say, that didnt happen and those teams were fortunate enough to dodge that bullet and continue to play in the WSHL.
Now, this isnt to say that the USACHL was a bad idea, because we think a free-to-play league is a good, noble idea in this era where new pay-to-play teams pop up every year, but one that was so poorly executed that everyone here at BLH knew the league was doomed from the start.
We first stumbled upon the USACHL earlier this year when we were doing research about possible NAHL expansion cities. Keep in mind that this site started in May, and at the time they had two confirmed teams in Laredo and RGV, and a third one weeks away from confirming in Wichita Falls.
And that’s where things immediately went downhill. We wrote in July about if the league could make it an already crowded junior hockey market, noting that they were getting off to an extremely late start with just three teams and a projected start date of late October and still having just three teams at that point.
We reached out to the league, who sent us basically a list of things they planned to do, which we had already read on their website, and they told us in the next couple weeks they expected to announce 2-3 more teams for the coming season.
So we waited, and waited, and eventually even asked the league about a rumor we heard that the next expansion team was going to be in Dodge City, Kansas, and heard nothing back. There was rumor that the league was only going to be four teams with one in Beaumont, once again, nothing.
It got down to two months before the season was slated to start and suddenly the Texas Lawmen were created out of thin air and were going to play their home games in a rink that might have had 500 seats, a far cry from the 5,000 seat venues they promised on the league website…and that rink was like 10 minutes from where the Killer Bees were going to play, another head scratcher. This probably should have been the first major warning sign that this was going to be a disaster.
Because a new team needs at least six months to get everything done for the upcoming season, let alone however much time to start a whole new league. And yet, rather than wait a year and try to get to six teams, they forged ahead for some stupid reason with two teams that had maybe 3 months to get things in order. Probably because they already had money from thousands of season ticket holders.
We heard that they were going to put over $1 million into the Lawmen arena to make it a great place to play and practice and for the community to use. We’re still not sure the Lawmen ever played a game there as a number of problems suddenly sprang up and they played games as the “home” team in RGV’s arena.
But back to before games were actually played, and things immediately looked grim. They had two prospect camps/tryouts in the weeks leading up to the season, one in Canada and one in Chicago, where reportedly nine players showed up. That’s right, nine, as in not even enough for two lines on one team, let alone enough to populate four teams. It was also baffling that these camps were so far away from where the actually games were going to be played.
Oh and then a couple weeks before the season started there were coaches who quit, most notably in Wichita Falls, because they hadn’t been paid a dime, something that we’ll see more of in a bit.
And sure enough, once the games started the teams each had about 12 players take the ice on opening night, about five short of what you need or want on a normal night. Despite that, more than 3,700 people came out in Laredo in what turned out to be the only home game they saw this “season.”
But the league swore that more players were coming, and that the teams would have full rosters soon. They never did. Things reached a new literal low for rosters on the same weekend just two weeks ago, when the Texas Lawmen were down to four players and the “visiting” Killer Bees had to lend them four of their 12 players so they could play a 3-on-3 “showcase” that the RGV Facebook page had the gall to call the 956 Players Classic or whatever, as if it were actually a great thing that these poor players had to play glorified pick-up hockey.
On that same weekend across the state in Wichita Falls, the Force and Bucks also had 10-12 players per team…and had to play three games in three days, with fans at the game saying it basically turne into 3-on-3 by Sunday because players were so tired they couldn’t or wouldn’t join in on the rush.
And while all this was going on in the rinks, off the ice the league claimed its social media accounts were hacked by a rogue employee after they all, including the league Twitter and Facebook, disappeared. Turns out they just hadn’t been paying the group that put together and ran their social media pages, Ludwig Media.
Oh, and at the same time, their stats page, the lifeblood of a junior hockey league and what players point to when trying to get scouted or recruited, was also suddenly gone. No standings, no goals, nothing. And this is supposed to be a legit hockey league?
And then things somehow got worse. The Texas Lawmen folded after their four remaining players bolted, and then the “league” was set to have games in Wichita Falls between the Force and Killer Bees…only for the rink managers in WF to lock the doors because the league was behind on payments. Despite this, the league claimed it was a lie and that they sent payment, then sent both RGV and Laredo players (the Bucks were set to help the Force have a full roster for the weekend) to Wichita Falls, about a 10 hour drive each way, knowing full well that the games weren’t happening.
It got so bad the Force players had to be let into the arena so they could get their gear, pack their bags, and head home Monday, effectively ending the Force, even though neither the team or league has yet to admit that.
Down to just RGV and Laredo, the writing was on the wall that the USACHL was done. The league then claims they were going to salvage the year by bringing in new international teams to play the Bucks and Bees (a lie, because how are you paying for these teams if you cant even pay for your own ice?) and again said more players were on the way, also a lie.
And finally on Friday night, the arenas in Laredo and RGV both put out statements that hockey done because of the league not paying bills or failing to hold up their end of some agreements, basically the theme of the USACHL since Day 1.
So to sum all this up, a league that claimed it was going to have six teams never had more than three, taking advantage of hockey-starved markets and nostalgia by claiming they were bringing back the Bucks and Bees, when all they were doing was robbing the fans who put down money for season tickets.
They claimed they had enough money to run the league for three years, obviously another lie as they didnt last three months.
Worst of all in all this, every bit of bad news came from anyone and everyone but the league. Seriously, not one peep from the league or its teams. When the Force folded it was because of parents and the arena telling people on social media it done. The same in Laredo and RGV. Not once did the league or teams admit there were problems. They just kept lying and saying everything was fine and that everyone else were the liars. And now it appears the league and its owners will run away into the night, leaving behind a trail of unpaid bills, unkept promises, and broken hearts of fans and players.
The USACHL never had a chance even when the fans and players in the towns they hurt kept giving them chances, because all they ever wanted was a hockey team to root for.