There’s “a whole bunch of” hockey action in the southern part of the U.S.
Unfortunately, most of it’s in the court rooms.
One Texas team’s in the playoffs, however.
It’s the Houston Aeros, who are hosting the Manitoba Moose in the AHL semi-finals.
Because so much negative press has been written about sun belt hockey, we thought that the following article on hockey in Houston was “refreshing.”
Courtesy of the Houston Chronicle
by David Barron
Bummed out? [The Houston Rockets were defeated by the L.A. Lakers.]
Buck up. There’s still a playoff game tonight at Toyota Center.
If you were following the Rockets…you’ll feel right at home. The perils of the home team will be all too familiar.
The Aeros are home tonight after a week on the road that included a series-clinching Game 7 win at Milwaukee and two losses at Winnipeg in the conference finals.
If you visit the arena tonight, you’ll find the same beer and sodas you get at a Rockets game, and the tickets are cheaper.
Plus, there’s sanctioned mockery of the opposing goalie.
It’s an easy chant to remember. Should the Aeros score, wait for the announcement and the 1-2-3 count-off for the cheer, “He shoots, he scores, Hey, Schneider (in this case, Moose goalie Cory Schneider), you suck.”
Much of the noise will emanate from the Attack Zone, in Toyota Center’s north end zone, behind the net the Aeros attack during the first and third periods. That’s the hangout for many of the 2,000 or so Aeros season-ticket holders and some of Houston’s most committed hockey fans.
“I think a lot of people who go to Rockets games are there for socializing,” said Cliff Maxwell of Houston. “Here, it’s an appreciation of the players and the sport and the game and the whole atmosphere of it.
“It’s just a different mindset. We think we know the team on a first-name basis, and we’ll yell out their first names rather than their last names. It’s a lot more intimate and a lot more passionate.”
It’s less crowded, too. The Aeros average about 6,000 tickets sold per game, so there’s room for bandwagon jumpers in the lower bowl, which seats about 9,000.
This is the Aeros’ 15th season in Houston, including an International Hockey League title in 1999 and an AHL title in 2003, and the sixth season under the majority ownership of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.
It’s a minor league team, so player movement is a fact of life. Still, there’s a hard core of regulars; six players played in more than 70 regular-season games. Twelve have spent all or part of at least two seasons here.
“The players have played tag with my son on the ice,” said Laura Bell, a season-ticket holder for 10 years. “We’ve met these guys. You wouldn’t get that sort of opportunity with the Rockets.”
After spending four of his eight years as a pro in Houston, defenseman and captain Clayton Stoner knows fans not only by face but by name.
“I know half the season-ticket holders in this building personally through functions and charity work or meeting them after the game or talking to them on the street,” he said. “They’re loyal, and they know the game really well.”
Jamie Spencer, who oversees the franchise for Minnesota Sports & Entertainment, which purchased controlling interest in the team from founder Chuck Watson in 2003, said the Aeros lead the AHL in group sales and rank sixth in average attendance, with an average ticket price of about $18.
The team markets itself to families and corporate sponsors as an affordable alternative to the big leaguers.
“It’s a grass-roots approach,” Spencer said. “The Astros and Texans go after more of the Fortune 500s. Our appeal goes more to the family-owned, medium-sized business owners.”
The Aeros have marketing deals with familiar sports sponsors such as Memorial Hermann and Marriott, but a relative unknown, Zeus Mortgage, has the highly visible logo position on the team’s sweaters and ticket stubs.
THE AEROS: HOUSTON’S 10TH MOST POPULAR TEAM
“I get a lot of solicitations, and this struck me as something that would be good exposure for the cost involved,” said Rory Higgins, a vice president of Zeus Mortgage. “We’ve been pleased at the number of people who know us through the Aeros and are excited about the relationship.”
Many fans are of two minds about the Aeros’ AHL affiliation. Many would like an NHL team in Houston but say they would attend fewer games because of the inevitable bump in ticket prices. Others are happy with the minor league.
“We attract people who don’t want to spend big dollars but want to see the future stars,” Spencer said.
…Win or lose, Aeros fans bring attitude and noise.
“There aren’t a lot of hockey lovers in Houston,” Bell said, “but we’re intense about it. And I would imagine that we have more cowbells.”
Just like the fans at GM Place – intense. But, with more cow bells.