Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NAHL South Division Report: Corpus Christi bringing in Huge Crowds

Even though the Corpus Christi Icerays are currently in 5th place in the NAHL South Division, they are winning big at the gates and with the fans as they are leading the league in average attendance with just under 3500 per game and a couple of games where they have pushed 6,000 at the American Bank Center.

It's starting to look like that making the move from Minor League to Junior is turning out to be a great move for the city and the team. During the final year of the Corpus Christi Icerays playing in the Central Hockey League were they were averaging a little over 3,000 fans per game.

But they are embracing the Junior Route and hope to make a desirable destination for young players to come to their team in the near future and hoping to compete with teams like the Texas Tornado and Wichita Falls Wildcats for players in the Southwestern part of the country.

Here's a look at the rest of this Weeks Division Reports.

West Division, No Place like home for Fresno

NAHL South Division Report by Zach Duncan of the NAHL Website

Some Hockey fans in Corpus Christi were skeptical when it announced last May that the local pro team would be replaced by a NAHL Team.

But it hasn't taken long for those fans to be won over by the excitement of Junior A Hockey.

The Icerays lead the NAHL in attendance with an average of 3,446 fans per game. In Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Texas Tornado, 5,912 fans came out for the team's annual stars and stripes Night, in which tickets were provided to the families of Police, Fire, other law enforcement and emergency response personnel.

Another 5,762 fans showed up at the American Bank Center on October 10 to witness a 5-4 shutout victory over the New Mexico Mustangs.

Corpus Christi coach Brent Hughes said the transition from pro to junior hockey couldn't have been much smoother, and has received lots of support and positive feedback from the fans.

"It's gone really super well," said Hughes, who is enjoying his first stint coaching junior hockey after spending the last seven years in Pro Hockey in Corpus Christi and Austin. "A lot of skepticism was definitely in the air (about the league switch). A lot of people didn't know about Junior Hockey in Texas.

"It's pretty much the same speed as the pro game, and the intensity is probably higher."

Hughes said that Icerays GM Pat Dunn invited all of last year's season ticket holders to the first two home dates on October 1 and 2 and guaranteed that he'd refund their money for 2010-2011 if they were satisfied.

The result was an increase in season tickets sold. Corpus Christi has always drawn well - it averaged 3104 fans in 32 home games a year ago as a pro team - so it's not too surprising that fans have embraced a different level of hockey.

While the crowds have been stellar, the Icerays own a 3-3 record at the American Bank Center and are 6-6-2 on the season.

Hughes said he expected a slow start because his squad is young and it was assembled later then most. The Alpena team wasn't relocated to South Texas until after many teams have tendered prospects and the 2010 NAHL Draft had taken place.

"If I was told we'd be almost .500 almost two months into the season, I would have taken all day long." Hughes said. "With Junior Kids, there's a bigger learning curve. We're making headway, and the guys keep working together."

Goaltender Marco Wesiner, who played in 42 games with Alpena last year, has been pivotal to the Icerays Success early on. Hughes also said that leading scorers Beau Walker (21 Points) and Mike Benedict (15 Points) have flourished in early roles. Walker scored all of 7 points a year ago with the Alaska Avalanche.

South Division Notebook

Amarillo Bulls: The Bulls have been outstanding at home this season, winning seven of eight and outscoring opponents 39-24 in the process. Forward Zack Smoot and defensemen Karl Backman are a combined +20 inside the Amarillo Civic Center. The Bulls only play two games in the next three weeks.

Here's the Amarillo Bulls Weekly Release

New Mexico Mustangs: Forward Adam Chapie has a hand in all the Mustangs goals during Saturday's 5-3 loss to Wichita Falls. Chapie, a Michigan Native, registered a goal and two assists. He leads New Mexico with 9 points this season.

Texas Tornado:  The Tornado has won eight straight and moved into sole possession of first place with a weekend sweep of Corpus Christi. Texas has scored at least eight goals once in each of the past three weekends, and J.D. Howard returned after being sidelined for three weeks with an injury to lead Texas with four points against the Icerays.

Here's some interesting news items on activities coming up.

First here's what's planned for Halloween Weekend

Texas Tornado Tailgate Parties

Topeka Roadrunners: Topeka split it's home weekend series against the St. Louis bandits. The Roadrunners rallied from a 3-1 deficit Friday behind five goals in the third period to win 6-3. Captain Michael Hill scored twice. While Jordan Davis and Nate Milam recorded shorthanded tallies a mere 45 seconds apart.

Wichita Falls Wildcats: After a 1-for-25 stretch on the power play on its previous four games, the Wildcats broke out of a slump by going 5-for-14 during a four point weekend. Mac Olson, who had a hat trick in Sunday's 5-3 win against New Mexico and Mikhail Sentyurin had two man advantage goals each.

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