On the surface, one would think hockey could survive here: A large percentage of the city’s residents moved here from places that had National Hockey League teams, long ago expanded from the “original six” to teams located from coast-to-coast.
In spite of the constant action, athleticism of the players and how fans often say they go to see the fights, such was not the case.
When Santa Ana Star Center opened its doors in October 2006, the New Mexico Scorpions were the arena’s anchor tenant. For the planners of the Star Center, the success they envisioned for the franchise turned out to be a big miscalculation.
The team, which began its existence in the Central Hockey League by playing its games at Tingley Coliseum, actually took the 2005-06 season off while the Star Center was under construction.
The Scorpions attracted enthusiastic, though not necessarily large, crowds here for all three of their seasons. They “went dark” after the 2008-09 season.
But then a new team came to town: the New Mexico Renegades, who began their existence as a juniors team in Fort Worth playing in the Western States Hockey league.
Playing its home games at Blades Multiplex Arenas, the team was comprised of youngsters with their eyes on attracting a college scholarship and someday playing in the NHL.
Meanwhile, in 2010, another juniors team, the New Mexico Mustangs of the North American Hockey League and bankrolled by Ken Dennis of Southern California, came to play in the Star Center.
But after two seasons, the Mustangs suspended operations. The franchise recently relocated to Richfield, Minn., to become the Minnesota Magicians.
Now, the Renegades have melted away.
The WSHL is expanding for the 2014-15 season, but the 30-team league won’t include the Renegades, who have moved to Springfield, Mo., after five seasons at Blades, to be known as the Springfield Express.
That move shouldn’t have surprised anyone: The Renegades finished in last place of the Mountain Division of the WSHL this past season, and averaged only 101 fans to their home games, second-to-last in the league. The team regularly changed its roster and went through a handful of coaches. By the end of the 2013-14 season, 36 players had worn a Renegades jersey.
We’re sorry to see another entertainment alternative leave town, following in the tracks of the Scorpions, Mustangs, the indoor football Wildcats and basketball Thunderbirds. We look forward to the day when professional hockey can establish permanent roots in Rio Rancho. But that may just be wishful thinking.