Thursday, November 24, 2011

Arizona Sundogs 4 at Texas Brahmas 3 (OT) - November 23, 2011

I'm in Texas! After an 18-hour trip from Tokyo to Dallas via Detroit, I had just over an hour to get to the NYTEX Sports Center for a CHL game between the Texas Brahmas and Arizona Sundogs. The flight landed 30 minutes early, around 5:15 pm. The car rental center at DFW is offsite, about 10 minutes from the airport, and with the lineup at the counter, I wasn't in the car until 6:15. The rink is just 20 minutes away from the airport, and amazingly I made it without getting lost, arriving in plenty of time for the puck drop.


The Central Hockey League is a 14-team league based in nine states across the midwest and southern US. The league began with six teams in 1992 and like all minor leagues, has seen its membership vary widely. Last season they took on 5 teams from the International Hockey League, but this year they lost 5 teams, including the defending champion Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs.

Each team plays 66 games over the course of the season with 8 squads making the playoffs. Three rounds of playoffs culminate in the awarding of the Ray Miron President's Cup, named after the league's founder.

Dallas and Fort Worth each had teams in the original league but both folded. When the CHL merged with the Western Professional Hockey League in 2001, the Fort Worth Brahmas were one of the WPHL franchises that came onboard. In 2006, the team was unable to negotiate a lease with their home arena, which caused them to miss a season. They rejoined the league in 2007, moving to their current location and renaming themselves the Texas Brahmas. Since then they've been quite successful, winning a league championship in 2009. The picture above shows two banners, one for the Fort Worth Fire and then the 2009 Division Championship for Texas.

NYTEX Sports Centre

Located in North Richland Hills, a suburb of Fort Worth, the NYTEX Sports Centre (spelled the Canadian way!) is one of many suburban sports complexes that have sprung up recently. The Brahamas are the main tenant, but the rink is also used for community skating and other activities, including volleyball.

Parking is widely available on the street here, although there is also a lot that was charging $5. There are five ticket selections, with seats on the glass going for $35, rows 2-5 (Club) at $23, rows 6-9 (Plaza) at $19, rows 10-11 (Mezzanine) at $16 and then the end zone seats at $13. The Plaza seats might be your best bet as those in the Mezzanine are partially blocked by the section separators. When sitting in the last row, I could not see the action in one corner. Also note that the Club and Plaza seats are actually seats, while the others are simply benches with the seat number written on the bench itself in marker.

The venue is quite small and is divided into two levels. The main concourse is where all of the promotions are advertised and has the main concession stand, which sells the usual suspects and always seemed to be crowded. There is a stairway here that leads to the upper concourse, which might be better to use if you are sitting in the top few rows or the end zone. There is also a smaller concession here which was had far fewer patrons.

ZuRoma is an Italian restaurant on the premises which purports to have great pizza but was rather empty during the game. It might be worth checking out if you get there well before faceoff.

There is also an air hockey table that garnered much attention during the intermissions, which were a bit longer than I am used to at 18 minutes.

NYTEX is a simple venue that serves its purpose as a community centre but also houses a pro hockey team. The fans here were great, very supportive of their squad; most had some form of Brahma attire on and were very loud with cowbells the most common accessory. Other than the design flaw that prevents the top row of seats from seeing the whole ice surface, this is an enjoyable rink to catch some CHL action.

The Game

The season is early and neither team has sparkled yet, with the Brahmas lying 5th and Arizona 6th in the 7-team Berry Conference.

The first period was sloppy. It might be the ice, or simply a lack of talent, but there were few chances for either team. The only goal was scored by the Sundogs when Jeff Hazelwood slipped a weak backhander behind rookie netminder Mark Guggenberger.

The second period saw 3 power play goals - the first by Arizona on a slapper from the point. Texas scored a similar tally on their first PP of the period, and then knotted the game with a great wrist shot from Chad Woollard.

Early on in the third period, Calin Wild made a strong effort in front as the puck rolled away from Arizona keeper Levente Szuper (pictured above, he once sat on the bench for nine games for the Flames but never saw any NHL action). Wild lunged and managed to nudge the puck into the empty net to give the home team their first lead of the game (below).

The Brahmas couldn't hold on though as Hazelwood snuck an easy one past Guggenberger midway through the frame. From where I sat and judging from the Brahmas' reactions, it looked like a shot he should have stopped.

The rest of the period saw a few chances, but no more goals, so we went to overtime. Again Hazelwood was again the hero, notching his hat-trick goal exactly 3 minutes into the extra stanza to give the visitors the win.

The level here is clearly not as good as the ECHL, and perhaps slightly worse than the Asian League I saw last week. There were few good plays, and rarely would more than two passes connect consecutively. Usually players were falling over each other in a seemingly random pattern as the puck bounced around. There was one good fight though, and the play here was physical. Still, it is safe to say that there aren't a lot of NHL scouts hoping to find a diamond in the rough in this league. The fans had a great time though and the game was quite enjoyable, and that is all that matters.


One promotion the Brahmas have is the Brahama Bull throw. Before the game, $2 gets you a small plastic bull with a number on it. When the Brahmas score, you throw your bull on the ice. At the end of the game, one lucky winner gets a Brahmas' hat, worth about $2.50. So after each home team goal, there is a slight delay as the ice kids gather up the tossed toros while the Texas goalie watches.

It was Military Appreciation Night and the main concourse had some interesting displays on military history. As well, the Brahmas wore special third jerseys that were very patriotic, with the Statue of Liberty on them.

After the game, there is a free public skate. The arena lends fans a pair of skates and you can circle the ice a few times with some Brahma players. I was far too tired to participate in this, but it is a great idea.

Next Up

It is Thanksgiving today and I am going to the Cowboys Dolphins game. Tomorrow it will be the Leafs and Stars before a tripleheader of college and minor-league action Saturday. Check back for updates as usual.



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