Monday, 20 September 2010

Reptiles And Rampage

After spending a day in the fine city of San Antonio, it occurred to me that hockey hasn't known the city of San Antonio for any length of time. They have had three professional hockey teams in the history of their city, and the current AHL team known as the Rampage is the highest level of hockey that city has seen. With the growth of hockey throughout the state of Texas in the 1990s after the arrival of the Dallas Stars, cities that never knew hockey suddenly found a home on the hockey map. San Antonio was one of these cities, and their inclusion to both the IHL and AHL made sense geographically. However, there was one team before the IHL and AHL arrived in town, and we'll start with at this point in our examination of San Antonio's hockey history.

The Central Hockey League saw its first expansion team join the league in 1994 when the San Antonio Iguanas joined the league for the 1994-95 season. The team started with former Minnesota North Star Bill Goldsworthy as their head coach, but he only spent ten games behind the bench, going 5-4-1. Goldsworthy stepped down after being diagnosed with AIDS in November 1994, the first professional hockey player to acknowledge having the disease. In 1996, Goldsworthy passed away due to complications from the disease, and his gravesite is located in Lakewood Cemetary in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

After Goldsworthy announced his early retirement, he was replaced by John Torchetti. Torchetti guided the Iguanas to a 37-22-7 mark, good for second-place in the seven-team CHL. Paul Jackson would lead the team in goals with 51, and Brian Shantz would lead the CHL in assists with 80 and in points with 119. With the top four CHL teams making the playoffs, the Iguanas would meet up with the Tulsa Oilers in the playoffs in their first season.

The two teams battled through seven games. Only Games One and Six would be decided by less than three goals, and those two games went to overtime. Tulsa won both of those games - Game One was a 6-5 overtime win, while Game Six was a 5-4 overtime win. The other five games were all significant wins with margins of three goals or more. The series would flip back and forth before San Antonio wrapped up the series in the seventh game by a 6-1 score at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio. Their win gave them a berth in the CHL Final!

The Iguanas would face-off against the CHL regular-season champions in the Wichita Thunder. The Thunder would win Games One and Two before the Iguanas cut the deficit in half on home ice with a 5-2 win in Game Three. The Thunder would rally back to push the Iguanas to the brink, but the Iguanas staved off elimination in Game Five with a 6-2 victory. Game Six, however, saw the Iguanas fall 9-4 to Wichita as the Thunder captured the first Ray Miron President's Cup. John Torchetti won the Commissioner's Trophy as coach of the year at the conclusion of the season.

The Dallas Freeze would drop out of the CHL in 1995-96, leaving only six teams to compete for the championship. The Iguanas would finish in second-place for the second straight season, ending the campaign with a 39-17-8 record. Brian Shantz would have an outstanding season for the Iguanas, leading the team in goals with 56, and leading the league in assists with 85 and in points with 139. It appeared that the Iguanas were set to make another run at the CHL Championship.

The Iguanas would host the Memphis RiverKings in the opening round of the CHL Playoffs. The series was split 2-2 through four games, but the Iguanas poured on the heat in Games Five and Six, winning them 4-2 and 6-3, respectively. The six-game series win put the Iguanas into the CHL Final for the second consecutive season!

The Iguanas would meet the Oklahoma City Blazers in the final. The Blazers finished as the top-team in the CHL in 1995-96, so the Iguanas faced the same uphill battle as they did in the previous season. The Blazers would jump out to a 3-1 series lead, but the Iguanas were a determined bunch. They won Game Five in Oklahoma City by a 6-4 score before returning home to win Game Six by a 5-4 score in overtime. However, Game Seven saw the Blazers capture the Ray Miron President's Cup on home ice as they downed the Iguanas by a 4-2 score. Again, the Iguanas came up short, but they had been bridesmaids in their first two seasons of existance - not too shabby at all!

John Torchetti wouldn't be behind the bench for the Iguanas to start the season in 1996-97, but he was still in San Antonio. Torchetti took an assistant coaching position with the IHL's San Antonio Dragons as they began play in San Antonio. Instead, Dale Henry would guide the team through the first 36 games. Henry's reign would be cut short as he posted an abysmal 9-24-3 record in those 36 days, and he decided that he would rather help the team on the ice. He resigned his position as coach and took a seat on the bench as a player while Ric Seiling stepped behind the bench. Seiling would go 17-12-1 down the stretch, but it wasn't enough to get the Iguanas into the playoffs. They would finish the season in last place in the East Division with a 26-36-4 record.

Dale Henry played 23 games that season for the Iguanas, posting 12 goals and 19 points after his brief coaching stint. Paul Jackson led the Iguanas in goals (44), assists (46), points (90), and PIMs (391). Yes, you read that last stat correctly - leading scorer with nearly 400 PIMs! He would finish second in the league in PIMs and seventh in goals. Not a bad season's worth of work!

However, the Iguanas found themselves in a bit of a bind when another reptilian team took up residence in San Antonio in 1996. The IHL decided to set up shop in San Antonio after moving the Peoria Riverman franchise to Texas, and the Dragons took flight for the 1996-97 season. At first, the Iguanas and Dragons shared Freeman Coliseum, but the Dragons eventually forced the Iguanas out of their home. The Iguanas decided to suspend operations over the 1997-98 season while the IHL tested the waters in San Antonio.

The IHL Dragons lasted all of two seasons in San Antonio - not quite the lasting power that the IHL wanted. However, they had some success in their two-year existance. Head coach Jeff Brubaker hired former Iguanas' coach John Torchetti to help behind the bench, and the 1996-97 Dragons posted a record of 45-30-0-7. Daniel Shank led the team in all the major stats with 33 goals, 58 assists, and 91 points. He was also second on the team in PIMs with 293 minutes in the sin bin! David Littman and Bruce Racine split the goaltending duties fairly evenly.

The Dragons finished their first season in first-place in the Midwest Division. That finish gave them a first round date with the Chicago Wolves. In the best-of-five series, the Dragons were more than the Wolves could handle despite three of four games being decided by one goal, and San Antonio advanced with a 3-1 series win.

The Dragons would run into their cross-state rivals in the Houston Aeros in the second rund of the Turner Cup Playoffs. Houston jumped out to a 3-0 series lead before San Antonio picked up a 2-1 win to force a Game Five. The Aeros didn't let it go any longer, though, as they closed out the series with a 4-3 win to secure the 4-1 series win.

The 1997-98 season saw only one in San Antonio as the IHL's Dragons no longer had to share the Freeman Coliseum. The Dragons, unfortunately, would not survive past this season as they ran into financial problems. Despite being the better draw compared to the Iguanas, the Dragons simply couldn't make it work.

The 1997-98 season was certainly not the best way to go out, either. John Torchetti left the Dragons to take the head coaching job of the Fort Wayne Komets, and the carousel of coaches in San Antonio began. The Dragons stumbled through the season, posting a 25-49-8 record. Along with the Quebec Rafales, they were the only two teams to miss the Turner Cup Playoffs that season in the sixteen-team IHL. The Dragons were the worst team in the IHL in the 1997-98 season, closing out their existance with nothing more than a whimper. Once the season came to a close, the franchise folded due to their money problems.

Daniel Shank was clearly the star of the team once again in this season-to-forget. Shank finished 34 points ahead of the next closest scorer on the Dragons, Micah Aivazoff. Once again, he led the Dragons in goals with 39, assists with 43, and points with 82. The carousel of goaltenders saw six men dress for the Dragons. Scott Bailey played in 37 games, sporting a record of 11-17-3, a GAA of 3.73, and one shutout. Statistically, Eldon "Pokey" Reddick was the best goaltender that season. He played in 17 games for the Dragons, going 5-9-1 with a 3.13 GAA, a .900 save percentage, and one shutout.

With the Dragons extinct, the Iguanas returned to the ice in the CHL for the 1998-99 season. Their one-season time-out didn't seem to ruin their fan support. Head coach Todd Simpson led the team to a 37-26-0-7 record, good for second-place in the CHL's Western Division and a playoff spot. Johnny Brdarovic led the team in goals with 56 and points with 115, while goaltender Ken Shepard backstopped the team with a 16-11-2 record, a 3.64 GAA, and one shutout. Brdarovic was also named as the CHL's Rookie of the Year in 1998-99.

The Iguanas squared off with the Wichita Thunder in the opening round of the playoffs, and they showed that hadn't missed a beat. Wichita opened the series with a 3-2 ovetime victory, but the Iguanas rattled off three straight wins to clinch the series by a 3-1 margin.

In the second round, the Iguanas ran into an old nemesis as they matched up against the Oklahoma City Blazers. The Blazers finished first in the Western Division, so this was also a divisional rivalry between these two clubs. Unfortunately, the comparisons run short when looking at the series as the Blazers dismantled the Iguanas in a four-game sweep. Despite the loss, the Iguanas made a pretty good return to San Antonio!

Chris Stewart would take over behind the bench for the 1999-2000 season, but his first season didn't fare very well. Despite leading the Iguanas to a 33-32-5 record, the team missed the playoffs. Brian Shantz led the team in scoring with 109 points, 79 of which were assists!

Stewart would guide the Iguanas to another second-place finish in the Western Division and to the playoffs in his second season on the strength of a 42-21-0-7 record. A familiar name in Johnny Brdarovic would return to San Antonio to claim his team's scoring title. Brdarovic scored 29 goals and added 56 assists to lead the Iguanas in scoring just two seasons after leading the Dragons in scoring.

The Iguanas faced off against the Topeka Scarecrows in the first round. Much like their last trip to the playoffs, they allowed the Scarecrows to draw first blood with a 4-2 win before rattling off three straight wins to secure the 3-1 series win.

The second round was reduced to a best-of-five series, and the Iguanas and Blazers would clash again in this round. San Antonio took Games One and Three to go up 2-1 on the Blazers, pushing their rivals to the brink. However, the Blazers hammered the Iguanas 5-2 in San Antonio to push the series back to Oklahoma City. There, the two teams battled to a 1-0 score through overtime. However, the Blazers were the team to score, and San Antonio went home empty-handed once more thanks to the Blazers.

Stewart would be the first coach to last three seasons with the Iguanas, and he guided the club to a second-place finish in the Southeast Division on a 40-16-8 record in 2001-02. Blair Manning would lead the club in scoring with 77 points.

The Austin Ice Bats - the Iguanas' in-state rivals and first-place in the Southeast Division - were the Iguanas' opening-round opponents. While the two teams split the first two games, the Ice Bats took the next two games to close out the Iguanas' season with a 3-1 series loss. Not quite the finish they were looking for, but the Iguanas had larger issues at hand.

The San Antonio Spurs and the Florida Panthers had annouced a partnership to bring an AHL franchise to San Antonio's SBC Center in May 2002. Because the Iguanas' lease had expired, they had to look at the Alamodome as a possible place to play their home games. However, the search for an ownership group to purchase 25% of the team fell through, and the team had to cease operations without suitable ownership.

This, of course, opened the door for the San Antonio Rampage to be born, and the AHL moved into the SBC Center as the San Antonio Spurs and Florida Panthers launch an expansion team to be stocked with Panthers' prospects. The AHL franchise was awarded to the Spurs/Panthers ownership group on May 6, 2002. Before the team had been named, however, the group made a shrewd decision in hiring John Torchetti as the first head coach of the AHL franchise on May 31, 2002. Torchetti would return to San Antonio as part of the third professional hockey franchise in the history of the city.

On Jume 3, 2002, the Spurs announced that the AHL franchise would be named as the "Stampede", and would feature a rampaging bull with a blue, black and silver color scheme. The blue came directly from the Panthers while the silver-and-black are the colours of the Spurs. However, the Spurs made a second announcement just eleven days later stating that the AHL franchise would be named as the "Rampage", but all logos and the colour scheme would remain the same. On September 14, 2002, the Rampage unveiled their jerseys to the public just weeks before their first pre-season game against the Houston Aeros on October 4, 2002.

The Rampage haven't seen very much success in their eight seasons, but they started off fairly well. They opened their franchise history on October 12 in Milwaukee against the Admirals with a 6-2 loss. October 18 saw the Rampage record their first victory, a 5-4 win over the Utah Grizzlies. Their first home win in the brand-new SBC Center happened on November 7, 2002 when they defeated the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks by a 4-3 score. Filip Novak is selected as the team's first AHL All-Star, playing for PlanetUSA. Jeff Toms led the team in goals with 30 and scoring with 63 points in their inaugural season.

With a 36-29-11-4 record, the Rampage qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs in their first season. They would match up against the Norfolk Admirals, but the series wouldn't last long as the Admirals swept the Rampage out of the playoffs. While their first season showed promise, this season would be one of two where the Rampage played past the last regular season game.

Since their inaugural season, the Rampage have made the Calder Cup Playoffs twice. They made the playoffs in their first season, as seen above, and in 2007-08 under the watchful eye of Greg Ireland who guided the team to their best finish at 42-28-3-7 thus far. The team finished fifth in the eight-team West Division, and met up with the Toronto Marlies in the opening round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Despite falling behind 3-2 in the series, the Rampage pushed the Marlies to seven games before falling in Game Seven by a 2-1 score.

The Rampage have had some highlights, though. On February 14, 2005, Jay Bouwmeester represented the Rampage at the AHL All-Star Game for Team Canada. On June 30, 2005, the Spurs bought out the Panthers to become the sole owners of the Rampage. They hired the front office and coaching staff of the Utah Grizzlies to run their team after the Grizzlies had decided to pull out of the AHL. In early August of 2005, the Spurs announced that they had come to an agreement with the Phoenix Coyotes to be their AHL affiliate.

December 1, 2005 saw the San Antonio Rampage host the Cleveland Barons in the AHL's 30,000th regular season game. The game featured two NHL goaltenders as both Vesa Toskala of Cleveland and Brian Boucher of San Antonio took to the nets. Both goaltenders battled to a scoreless draw into the shootout. Karl Goehring replaced Boucher in the Rampage net for the shootout, and stopped four of five shots to post his first win as a member of the Rampage while giving the Rampage the victory in the 30,000th AHL game.

September 7, 2006 marked a new look for the Rampage as they changed their uniforms to reflect their affiliation with the Coyotes. The new colour scheme is black, gray, and silver, and the primary chest logo on the jersey has just the bull's head, replacing the full Rampage logo. Not that this should be a major piece of news, the Rampage also were afflicted with the Rbk EDGE jersey in 2007.

The Rampage will continue to write history this season as they begin their ninth AHL season. While the history of hockey has been short in San Antonio and there have been no championships to speak of yet, hockey appears to be thriving in the Texas city. Having both the Texas Stars and the Houston Aeros as in-state rivals should only help to fuel the rivalry that burns in the Texas winter!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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