After a long week of attending class, studying in the library and going out on the town, me and a few friends decided to escape from the Austin limelight for a few hours. As we browsed the internet, there was one event that caught our eyes. Surprisingly, it was a hockey game which intrigued the five of us. So, we did what any college freshmen would do. We ordered an Uber and headed northwest on US-183 with our final destination the HEB Center. Home to the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League. Just 30 minutes later, we arrived at the front entrance of the HEB Center in Cedar Park, Texas.
Contrary to what you have just read above, this post isn’t about our experience that night. This is about what went through my head as I left the arena last Friday night.
As we buckled up for the 30-minute ride back to West Campus, one question continued to baffle me:
What ever happened to Houston’s professional hockey team?
Now, I do know there was a hockey team in the City of Houston during my lifetime dating back to 1998. The Houston Aeros of the AHL played at the Toyota Center up until they relocated to become the Iowa Wild after the 2013 season. However, this was a minor league team, not a professional team.
Houston did have a professional hockey team back before my time. Contrary to popular belief, they were the original Houston Aeros.
The Houston Aeros of the Western Hockey Association began to play in 1972, but folded in 1978 after 6 seasons in the WHA’s short-lived operation. In their 6 seasons, they won 4 regular season titles, 4 division titles, and 2 championships (Avco World Trophy’s). The Houston Aeros are still regarded as one of the most successful teams in WHA history, which begs the question:
How do you leave the most dominant team out of the WHA-NHL merger?
It all began in 1977 when John Ziegler became President of the NHL. He was the one who started discussing a possible merger between the NHL and the WHA. Six teams applied to become a member of the NHL: Cincinnati Stingers, Winnipeg Jets, New England Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, Edmonton Oilers and of course the Houston Aeros. Unfortunately, the merger was voted against by the NHL owners.
Then, in 1978, merger talks resumed with the Houston Aeros appearing to be the top candidate to become a member of the NHL. In an effort to compromise with NHL owners, John Ziegler proposed an idea to allow only 4 franchises to join the league. The WHA agreed with the number of 4 franchises, but countered that all 3 of their Canadian teams would have to be accepted. With only 1 open slot, the decision came between the New England Whalers and the Houston Aeros.
Kenneth Schnitzer, owner of the Aeros, attempted to appeal to Jeremy Jacobsto, owner of the Boston Bruins. Schnitzer believed having the Hartford based Whalers in the NHL, would hurt the Bruins due to the close proximity of the organizations. Unfortunately, Jacobsto was against the merger altogether and to Schnitzer’s disbelief, NHL President Ziegler was against adding another southern team to the league.
Knowing the Aeros would not be included in the merger, Schnitzer attempted to buy and move the Cleveland Barons to the City of Houston, however the NHL voted against this. Instead, they allowed the owners of the Minnesota North Stars to purchase the Barons and combine it with their own. Schnitzer had no other choice but to fold the Houston Aeros organization on July 9, 1978.
Houston has not had a professional hockey team since.
And to this day, the Houston Aeros are the only WHA Champion to not be included in the NHL.
Should Houston try to get an NHL franchise?
Speaking on behalf of only myself, and I am sure a lot of other people out there, as a native Houstonian, I would be ecstatic to see an NHL franchise expand to the City of Houston. With so many of my friends at the University of Texas hailing from cities with NHL franchises like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Dallas, hockey has become just a normal part of my life. I enjoy watching games, now have 2 jerseys of my own, and play NHL 18 when I am not in the library. Obviously. The popularity of hockey is growing and what better way to experience it than watching it in my hometown.
Somebody bring my city back a hockey team it deserves.