The El Paso County Coliseum Events Center hosted rodeos, horse shows, and cattle auctions.
This week, the former ice rink turned into a Cow Palace in El Paso, Texas, is the site of 2020 Kraft Hockeyville USA and a pre-season game between the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes on Sunday (9 p.m. ET ).
Hundreds of communities have entered, but El Paso, a largely Hispanic town along the US-Mexico border in West Texas, won the title of America’s liveliest hockey community in 2020 after winning. garnered the most votes online in the 2020 Kraft Hockeyville USA contest.
In addition to the pre-season game, the Events Center won $ 150,000 in rink upgrades and $ 10,000 in equipment from the NHL Players’ Association Goals & Dreams Fund.
The preseason game has been postponed to 2020 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
Now the wait is over and El Paso, Stars and Coyotes are ready to celebrate and showcase the Kraft Hockeyville designation as a testament to hockey’s geographic and demographic growth.
“This is one of the main reasons why we have transformed [the building] from an equestrian center… we wanted to bring hockey here, to try to develop youth hockey, ”said Cory Herman, a former minor league forward who owns the El Paso Rhinos junior hockey teams and founded El Paso Hockey Association. The Hockeyville event is coming, I really think all of our programs, from figure skating to learning to skate to learning to play hockey, are going to grow further because of it. “
Stars and Coyotes officials said El Paso proves hockey can succeed in so-called non-traditional markets and attract fans of color.
El Paso sits on the Rio Grande across from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The city has 678,815 residents, according to 2020 U.S. Census figures, nearly 82 percent of whom are Hispanic.
“That says Texas Hispanics love hockey,” Stars president and CEO Brad Alberts said of the Hockeyville title. “As more and more Hispanics have access to the game, both from the kids who grow up and play it in our rinks and who have access to the start of the game, to the adults, and bring them in. in games, I think they’re going to find it’s a sport that they can feel comfortable watching, playing and enjoying. “
Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said the game gives the NHL “a great opportunity to really say that it’s a community, in terms of Latinos, that is a priority for us, that we seek to embrace, celebrate and connect with.
“It is clearly a rapidly growing and increasingly important community, both a demographic and an economic force in America,” said Gutierrez.
Gutierrez became the NHL’s first Hispanic CEO in June 2020
The festivities begin Thursday, with the Stanley Cup calling at the Events Center; Fort Bliss, the largest command facility of the United States armed forces; and at a community celebration in San Jacinto Plaza which former Coyotes players Shane Doan, Taylor Pyatt and David Scatchard are expected to attend.
Two Learn to Play sessions are scheduled at the Events Center on Saturday, with former Stars and Coyotes players on the ice as instructors, including Al Montoya, who was the first Cuban-American player in the NHL when he played. his debut with the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2008-09 season. season.
The goalie was 67-49-24 in 168 NHL games with the Coyotes, New York Islanders, Winnipeg Jets, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers at the during a career that ended after the 2017-18 season. He is now director of community outreach for the Stars.
“Hispanics want to be a part of hockey, and what better message could you send to the hockey community than winning Hockeyville? Said Montoya. “I think it’s amazing. Even before I took the job in Dallas, it was high on my list of something I wanted to be a part of.”
Corey Heon, general manager of the Rhinos, said he still complains about the Hockeyville designation and what the $ 150,000 prize has meant for the Events Center.
“I never thought in a million years that we would be in this situation,” Heon said. “We always made the most of everything with what we had.”
It means playing in a facility that was originally built with horses and cows in mind, not hockey players. The event center did not have formal locker rooms when the Rhinos first started playing there in 2006, forcing the team to initially use small circus tents erected near the ice as locker rooms.
Changing rooms were eventually built, including one made from a giant metal shipping container.
Large holes in the roof of the Event Center kept it from having ice during the summer months when outside temperatures can exceed 100 degrees. Old bulbs lit up the rink and made the ice sweat.
Still, the Rhinos have managed to form powerful junior teams over the years, including back-to-back United States Hockey League Thorne Cup champions in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
The money from the Kraft Hockeyville Prize was used to expand the entrances to the event center, replace nearly 67 old light bulbs with energy efficient LED lighting, renovate two toilets, and repair and insulate the roof, Herman said.
The event center had ice for the first time this summer, which meant hockey players and skaters didn’t have to drive nearly four hours to Albuquerque, New Mexico, or seven hours all the way to Amarillo, Texas, if they wanted time on the ice, Herman said.
“We were also able to host our four Rhino tryout camps here rather than going to Minnesota, Wisconsin, anywhere,” Herman said. “It was also a big deal for El Paso, because all these players were coming here to try and stay in our hotels.”
Stars and Coyotes officials hope the El Paso experience will bring the NHL across the border to play a game in Mexico. Each organization and the Mexican Ice Hockey Federation have discussed the idea with the League.
“We have had a few of our clubs that have expressed interest in playing games in Mexico and we are certainly evaluating that and expect to continue it at some point, whether in Mexico City or another city in the Mexico, “said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “I think it’s definitely on the horizon.”