Get ready for the Raptors: Pro hockey set to return to Rio Rancho - Albuquerque Journal

Get ready for the Raptors: Pro hockey set to return to Rio Rancho

Pro hockey is set to return to New Mexico in the form of the Raptors, who are expected to play in the Rio Rancho Events Center and will be a part of the East Coast Hockey League, said Joe Cordova, who is a minority owner and will be the general manager.

The New Mexico Raptors’ fate in Rio Rancho hasn’t been finalized just yet, but Cordova believes there will be a new hockey team for Rio Rancho and Albuquerque. A press conference to make it official is expected to be held in the coming weeks. Team colors and a team logo are expected to be introduced then.

Cordova is confident the puck will be dropped in Rio Rancho in October 2023.

Joe Cordova, GM of the soon-to-be New Mexico Raptors (Courtesy of Joe Cordova)

He says now is a good time to add a hockey team for hockey fans and sports lovers in the area.

“We think there is a lot of pent-up energy in the Albuquerque market,” Cordova said. “The Isotopes have been very successful. New Mexico United has been very successful. The (indoor football) Gladiators and the (indoor soccer) Roadrunners are starting to increase their fan base. Everything looks very positive from a marketing and strategic plan.”

The ECHL had 27 teams in the U.S. and Canada in 2021-22 and plans to play with 28 this coming season. The New Mexico-based team will be an expansion franchise, Cordova said.

The Rio Rancho Observer reports that the ECHL was affiliated with 27 of the 32 NHL teams during the 2021-22 season, marking the 25th consecutive season that the league has had affiliations with at least 20 NHL teams.

Cordova said the ownership group of RJ Sports LLC, based in Georgia, intends to bring a hockey team to Rio Rancho. Jerry James is the president and CEO of RJ Sports.

It’s been 13 years since New Mexico has had a pro hockey team after the Scorpions folded in July 2009, ending a 13-year run that was mostly played at Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque.

Albuquerque currently has the New Mexico Ice Wolves, who play home games at Outpost Ice Arenas. The Ice Wolves are in the North American Hockey League, which essentially is a developmental league for younger players seeking opportunities in the college and professional levels of the sport.

The University of New Mexico also has a club-status hockey team.

Cordova and the group are excited because they will be working with a bigger audience in their attempt to draw fans to hockey. In addition, several road construction projects on paths to the Rio Rancho Events Center have been completed and make for an easier, quicker commute to the arena, Cordova said.

“Rio Rancho has grown two-fold since the Scorpions were there,” Cordova said. “The population of Rio Rancho was about 60,000. And now Rio Rancho is approaching 150,000.”

Cordova was in Las Vegas, Nevada, for ECHL meetings that concluded on Thursday.

“We submitted the application a while back,” Cordova said. “They want to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. We’re close to getting it done.”

Cordova, an ex-Rio Rancho city councilor, was born and raised in El Paso. He has lived in Rio Rancho since 1980, but for six years was in Phoenix, where he worked for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals as a supervisor of team affairs.

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