On New Year’s Day they played an ice hockey game in Dallas in the Cotton Bowl. That’s right, in the Cotton Bowl. The Dallas Stars defeated the Nashville Predators 4-2 before a crowd of 85,630 hockey fans.
The Dallas Stars of the NHL have played in Dallas since 1993 when the Minnesota North Stars franchise was relocated there. In 1999, the team won the coveted Stanley Cup on a controversial goal by Brett Hull in the 3rd overtime period.
Houston has had a long history with professional hockey, starting in 1946 with a United States Hockey League team. After 16 seasons without hockey, the Houston Apollos arrived in 1965. The Apollos were in the Central Hockey League as a farm club of the NHL’s Montreal Canadians.
The Apollos played in the Sam Houston Coliseum before the advent of glass to protect the fans from flying pucks. Chain link fencing was used instead of glass and left an impression on a player checked into the fencing.
The Apollos lasted until 1969 when the Canadians moved the team to Montreal mainly to save the travel costs of shuffling players back and forth between Houston and Montreal.
In 1972, the World Hockey Association was formed to rival the NHL. One of the WHA teams was the Houston Aeros. Hockey legend Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty were among the players on the team.
As an aside, my dear departed wife was the assistant to Bobby Kincaid, the Aeros equipment manager. She may have been the first woman in this country allowed inside a professional sport team’s locker room. At the end of each home game, my wife would enter the locker room to gather up all the team jerseys. Gordie Howe liked to swat her on the ass with his towel.
What most Houstonians probably don’t know is that today’s Lakewood Church building was originally built to house the Aeros. Of those who remember The Summit, many believe it was built for the Houston Rockets but that is not true because at the time the Rockets didn’t draw flies.
The Aeros lasted until 1979 when they were left out in the cold by a merger of the NHL and the WHA.
The Houston Apollos of the Central Hockey League were revived fin 1979, but they suffered from poor attendance and folded after only a season and a half.
Houston was without hockey until the arrival of the Houston Aeros of the International Hockey League in 1994. When the IHL folded in 2001, the Aeros remained in Houston as an American Hockey League team. The new Aeros played in The Summit until the opening of the Les Alexander controlled Toyota Center.
When Alexander failed to get an NHL franchise, he in effect kicked the Aeros out of the Toyota Center by raising the rent to a level he knew the Aeros could not afford. A greedy Alexander wanted the 40 hockey dates for concerts which would bring in much more money than the Aeros. Because he was a Florida resident, the absentee landlord didn’t really give a damn about the city of Houston.
So, in 2013 the Aeros up and moved to Des Moines, Iowa, leaving Houston the largest city by population without a professional hockey team in the United States and Canada.
After Tilman Fertitta became the owner of the Houston Rockets, he attempted without success to obtain an NHL franchise.
The NHL currently has 31 teams, 24 in the United States and 7 in Canada. The league is committed to leave all Canadian teams in that country. Tilman’s only chance to get a hockey team is to purchase one of the American teams and move it to Houston. Unfortunately, there have been no American teams for sale or willing to relocate to Houston. And Seattle has been granted an NHL franchise and will start play in 2021. Except for rain and snow, what does Seattle have that Houston doesn’t have much more of?
It would have made good sense for the NHL to grant Tilman a franchise because with an odd number of teams, a playoff schedule is more difficult to make than one for an even number of teams. I suspect the NHL refused to add a Houston team because it was pissed off at Leslie Alexander. The Dallas Stars have drawn good crowds, so there is no reason to doubt that Houston would do the same with an NHL team.
Here’s hoping that Tilman Fertitta continues to seek an NHL team for our city. Houston deserves a team in the National Hockey League and it’s a damn shame that we don’t have one.