Houston Needs a Hockey Team: Here’s Why

Being the fourth largest city in the United States, it’s long past overdue for Houston to get an NHL team.

By Nathan Plunk, Copy Editor

In 2013, the Houston Aeros played their final game in Houston before being relocated to Des Moines, Iowa. There, they would lose the iconic Houston Aeros name and logo, and be officially known as the Iowa Wild. Since then, Houston has never had an official hockey team.

A Brief History

In 1972, Houston got its first hockey team under the WHA. Dominating the ice, they played six seasons up until 1978.  However, after being unable to join the NHL, they disbanded. Several years later, in 1994 they came back. Playing in what was known as The Summit, they moved stadiums to the Toyota Center in 2003. From there, they played all the way up to 2013, where on May 4th, they played their final game. Les Alexander, the owner of the Houston Rockets at the time, continuously increased the rent on the stadium until finally, the Aeros couldn’t afford it and had to relocate.

Several Close Chances

Despite never getting there, Houston has come close to an NHL team several times. While in the WHA, several attempts were made to add them, along with five other teams to the NHL. However, it soon became clear that the NHL wasn’t interested in a six-team expansion, so they dropped the offer down to add four. Out of the four teams, the WHA insisted that three of them be Canadian. That left room for one American, which was mainly between the Hartford Whalers, and the Houston Aeros. After some time, it became clear that the Whalers would likely be chosen, leaving Houston behind.

Justin Fontaine (#37) of the Houston Aeros blowing past the Milwaukee Admirals (By TheAHL – Aeros 10.21.12 4Uploaded by Dolovis, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30881175)

The owner of the Aeros, Kenneth Schnitzer, opted out of the ’78-’79 season and made an application for direct admission to the NHL. However, since the league was struggling, they weren’t interested in adding another team. It became clear to Schnitzer that the only way to get Houston a team would be through relocation. At the time, the Cleveland Barons weren’t doing well, with thoughts of going under. Schnitzer came very close to sealing a deal to relocate the team to Houston, but in the end, the Barons were bought by the owner of the Minnesota North Stars. After that, on July 9, 1979, Schnitzer had no other option but to let the team go. This made the Houston Aeros the only WHL Champion to not eventually make it to the NHL.

With 32 teams in the league, Houston will most likely have to relocate a team, as opposed to being an expansion if the city wants to see hockey

The Aeros got a second chance at a hockey team in 1994, in the IHL as an expansion franchise. However, the IHL started to go down, but in 2002, they merged the Aeros into the AHL. Relationships were strained between the Aeros owner, Chuck Watson, and Les Alexander. Alexander continuously raised the price of the rent for the Toyota Center, and Watson was forced to sell the team, resulting in relocation.

Despite kicking the Aeros out of the Toyota Center, Les Alexander did try to bring home a team to Houston. In the 90’s, he came close to buying the Edmonton Oilers, but the deal fell through when an Edmonton businessman paid to keep the team there. Furthermore, the current owner of the Houston Rockets and Landry’s Restaurant, Tilman Fertitta, has mentioned several times his interest in trying to get Houston a hockey team.

Why Houston Needs a Team

Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S. In fact, the top five all have hockey teams except Houston. Having over six million people in the Houston Metro Area, there would definitely be enough fans to support the team. Furthermore, back in the days when the Aeros existed, they were actually good. In the WHA, they won four consecutive western division titles, and two AVCO World Trophies. In the IHL, the Aeros beat the Orlando Solar Bears in the 1999 Turner Cup, 5-3 in seven games. In the 2002-2003 season, the Houston Aeros won the AHL Calder Cup. Several years later, they made it back to the cup, only to fall to the Binghamton Senators in six games.

One of the best parts about baseball in Houston is the rivalry against the Texas Rangers. However, the Dallas Stars currently have no rivals, something that several fans have complained about. Adding a Houston NHL team could give both cities games to look forward to. Lastly, Houston Hockey is something that has been gaining traction lately. Twitter accounts such as NHL To Houston and Houston wants a hockey team has popped up, trying to get Houston a team.

There’s no denying that Houston would be the perfect city for the next NHL team, but with 32 teams already, will Houston ever get one?