What Would It Mean for El Paso to Be Kraft Hockeyville? More.
That El Paso, Texas, is among the four finalists for Kraft Hockeyville USA is…magnificent.
That anyone would even think of El Paso as “Hockeyville”…?
But here we are. First time any city from the southwest has made it this far.
Every one of the four finalists –– River Falls, WI; East Grand Forks, MN; Wichita, KS; and El Paso –– would make a worthy Kraft Hockeyville, to be sure.
But there’s really only one that will move the needle for the sport in its community. Because for the other finalists hockey’s tank is already full, both for the number of people they serve and the number of rinks to serve them.
Throw a dart at a map of the area near the Wildcat Centre rink in River Falls, WI, and you’re liable to hit another rink, including the 10-minute walk up 6th Street to the Hunt Center.
Then again, you’re only 20 minutes away from puck-intensive Minneapolis-St. Paul.
East Grand Forks, MN, is different. It isn’t near a major city.
You remember the movie “Fargo”, right?
It’s north of that, don’cha know.
But take a right from the Kraft Hockeyville semifinalist Civic Center’s parking lot and head south down 5th Street. A couple of turns will take you into Lafave Park, right on the Minnesota-North Dakota state line, where you’ll find two more rinks — the Blue Line Arena and the VFW Arena — almost side-by-side.
Three rinks. A mile apart. In a town of 8,600.
The only other Kraft Hockeyville semifinalist that’s all by its lonesome is the Wichita Ice Center in Wichita, KS. It's also no small town. The downtown rink serves a population of 390,000.
However, you could drop the puck for a drive up I-35 and be in Kansas City by the third period to take your pick of rinks on either side of the Kansas-Missouri state line.
Then, there’s El Paso. Population: 700,000. With some fans, young players and figure skaters coming from Ciudád Juárez, too, add 1.2 million.
Closest hockey rink to the El Paso County Events Center?
Albuquerque. Four hours north.
Or Odessa. Four and a half hours east.
Or Phoenix. Phoenix has LOTS of rinks!
Six hours west.
You might think the geographic isolation would leave hockey fading like an ice cube on a summer sidewalk.
Actually, it's had the opposite effect. Love for the sport is concentrated, not evaporated. Pound-for-pound, El Paso has one of the most passionate hockey fan bases around. The NA3HL's El Paso Rhinos have seen to that.
The Rhinos’ raucous, rocking crowds are real eye-openers for other junior teams used to 50 people in a rink who all share last names.
But the Rhinos merely carry the banner for a whole slew of hockey and ice-related activities, teams and programs. Through the El Paso Hockey Association, beginners to old pros have a place to learn, hang out, and enjoy being on skates in the desert.
Just…keep it moving because it’s the only pad around. And maybe try to schedule your ice time when the sun’s down. Frankly, too much desert gets into the Events Center and creates spots on the rink where a Sonic slush has harder ice.
Hockey players would call their rink a barn even if they played in Madison Square Garden. But few can say their rinks were actual barns.
The El Paso County Equestr...’scuze me...Events Center is one of those, meaning insulation wasn't a big concern when it was built. You can see daylight through the welding in the roof.
And daylight in El Paso gets warm.
What would a prize of $150,000 in upgrades mean for El Paso's rink?
Look, any of the two million El Pasoans or Juarenses who want to play hockey should have a chance to work up a sweat. But their ice shouldn't.
You get the idea. Now give the Borderland your vote, right here.