The National Hockey League continues inching toward restarting its season. It should consider doing so in Fort Worth.
Not just Cowtown, of course. The entirety of North Texas can handle all the hockey the league can fling at it.
The idea occurred to me while watching a Dallas Influencers in Sports and Entertainment Virtual Speaker Series event featuring Keith Wachtel. He’s the Chief Revenue Officer and the Executive Vice President of Global Partnerships at the NHL. Part of poll involved where the NHL should resume play, and “Dallas” was one of the choices. With the crowd consisting mostly of locals, that option won handily. And then I said, “Why not?”
The NHL wants to identify two “hub” cities where it can hold multiple neutral site games as part of a postseason tournament (they’re going to declare the regular season over and move straight into the playoffs). Options are:
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
- Minneapolis-St. Paul
Canadian cities present a challenge because of potential immigration and quarantine restrictions. Las Vegas lacks volume in ice surfaces, but its hotels give it an advantage, plus, well, it’s Las Vegas. Minneapolis-St. Paul has plenty of rinks and hockey tradition, but the league might, through no fault of their own, see some disadvantages to setting up shop in the Twin Cities right now, unfortunately. Los Angeles has traffic. Columbus would need to figure out if it has the hotel capacity. But here’s the thing: we’ve got it all.
First, go where the ice is! Did you realize that North Texas has no fewer than seven venues that have hosted professional or high-level junior hockey, plus a brand new one equipped to do so. Here’s the list:
- American Airlines Center (Dallas, current home of the Dallas Stars)
- Allen Events Center (Allen, current home of the Allen Americans)
- Comerica Center (Frisco, former home of the Texas Tornado)
- Dickies Arena (Fort Worth, brand new with ice-making capabilities)
- Fair Park Coliseum (Dallas, former home of the Dallas Blackhawks and Freeze)
- Fort Worth Convention Center (Fort Worth, former home of the Fort Worth Texans, Fire, and Brahmas, and it hosted a 1993 Stars vs. Blues exhibition game)
- NYTEX Sports Centre (North Richland Hills, home of the Lone Star Brahmas)
- Will Rogers Coliseum (Fort Worth, former home of the Fort Worth Texans and Fire)
They are all, to one degree or another, equipped for television. And the area is home to a lot of television production freelancers in the business who are dying for work. It’s a top-ten media market, so we get some of the best in the business. Being in the Central Time Zone is an advantage for flights, too, and we’ve got an airport made for social distancing.
And did you know at one time Texas had more professional hockey teams than any other state in the country? If you don’t want to stay here exclusively, you’ll find quality hockey facilities in Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Cedar Park, and Houston.
Of course, you can’t just play games. You’d have all of the above arenas available for practice ice plus eight Children’s Health StarCenters across Dallas, Tarrant, and Collin Counties and a few other rinks here and there.
The area has some sprawl to it, but traffic is nowhere near as bad here as it is in some other places. And we’ve got excellent hotels close to all of those arenas, including a few within walking distance of these venues. The playing facilities don’t all have NHL capacity, but these games won’t be played with a full complement of fans.
Speaking of fans, did you see how quickly we sold out the Cotton Bowl Stadium for the Winter Classic? I forgot about it – there’s another place you could build a rink. We’ve got plenty of hockey fans, and thanks to Texas sports policies, you have some leeway to figure out ways to safely allow some into the games.
You tend to see regional rivalries in this area in sports. The Freeze-Fire one was great, ala vintage TCU-SMU. If you put the Canadiens at Fair Park Coliseum and the Maple Leafs in Will Rogers, just watch how quickly the local fans adopt them.
The league may not be thinking to use that many venues, but why not? You can import ice-making experts from idle rinks elsewhere to ensure quality control. And the more venues you use, the less cross-contamination you get from multiple teams using the same spaces.
If you decide to use Will Rogers, let me just warn you that it takes a little while to clean the rodeo dust off the spotlight platform. I had to do that when the Fire started playing games there in the mid-90s. But once you get it scrubbed, it’s a great vantage point for play-by-play.
The Dallas Stars earned a spot in the postseason tournament this year. When they won the Stanley Cup in 1999, the series finished in Buffalo. This should be the year they, or even some other team, raises the Cup in North Texas.