Killer Bees and Winter Texans: A perfect match

killer_beesIn one scene of the classic hockey movies SlapShot, with the team on the brink of folding due to the local steel mill shutting down, a glimmer of hope appears. An article in the paper, written by Dickie Dunn (Dickie Dunn!), claims the Johnstown Chiefs are being sold to an investment group in Florida.

The players get excited. Warm weather. Knowledgeable fans. The Chiefs go on to win the championship of the Federal League.

In pitching the story to writer Dunn, Chiefs Coach Reg Dunlop explains the group's rationale; they're a bunch of northerners who miss the Saturday night hockey game.

The movie debuted in 1977 and the idea of a cold weather sport, like hockey, flourishing in warm weather climates wasn't taken very seriously. In fact, the story Dunlop pitched was simply a ruse to keep the players motivated.

How things have changed. Florida now has two NHL teams and the state has seen several minor league teams over the years. The game has literally spread across the country, with teams in such far flung places as California, Mississippi, Louisiana and, of course Texas.

Texas, in fact, has more pro hockey teams than any other state. Nine, to be exact (bonus credit if you can name them all).

As the Rio Grande Valley has grown, so has the makeup of its residents. While NAFTA opened up the border between the U.S. and Mexico for trade, it also opened up a gradual influx of northern transplants to the Valley. Midwesterners. Canadians. And of course, the Winter Texans.

"We see a lot of Winter Texans at the games, whether they come on their own or as part of one of the Winter Texan Nights we do," Killer Bees General Manager Grant Buckborough said. A Canadian himself, Buckborough said the team's arrival in 2003 was met with great enthusiasm, especially from those escaping the cold winters in places like Iowa, Wisconsin, Ontario or Illinois. "Right off the bat, we had people coming up to us and saying thanks for putting a hockey team here. One couple who had lived here for 10 years told me they used to go to University of Minnesota games all the time and the one thing they missed the most about home was going to hockey games."

It's a term that seems unlikely to people outside the region. "Winter Texans? What's that?" Interestingly enough, the similarities between the Winter Texans and the "Snowbirds" in Florida are pretty much the same. They've worked and lived in cold weather climates for too long. They want sun, fun, and a place to call their own where they don't have to break out the snow shovel.

Over the years, the team has employed a part-time Winter Texan Coordinator who helps bring groups to the games from the many RV parks and other Winter Texan-based communities throughout the Valley. In the new year (2010), the Killer Bees are holding two Winter Texan Nights at the Dodge Arena where tickets are only $6, as opposed to the regular $16 and will offer $1 hotdogs, sodas and popcorn all night. The dates for those games are Jan. 27 vs. Odessa Jackalopes at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 23 vs. Allen Americans at 7:30 p.m. All games are played at the Dodge Arena, located in Hidalgo.

"We wanted to do something extra special for the Winter Texan fans who have been such big supporters over the years," Buckborough explained.

To order discounted tickets you must contact Winter Texan Coordinator Alan Lester 956-802-2904.

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