Born: 1996 – WPHL founding franchise.
Died: May 6, 2008 – The Ice Bats cease operations.
- 1996-????: Daniel Hart, Ed Novess, Paul Lawless & Blaine Stoughton
- ????-2003: John McVaney & Jim Crane
- 2003-2007: Jeff Buch, Norman Green, Randy Sanders, et al.
- 2007-2008: Randy Sanders
The Austin Ice Bats were a minor league hockey team that skated for twelve seasons in Texas’ capital city. The Ice Bats derived their name from the famed colony of 3.5 million of free-tailed bats that live under Austin’s Congress Avenue bridge.
The club was one of six original franchises in the Western Professional Hockey League in 1996. All of the league’s original franchises were in Texas and New Mexico, though expansion would eventually stretch the WPHL into Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Austin was a solid box office hit in the early years, with the Ice Bats leading the WPHL in attendance during the inaugural season of 1996-97 with 6,200 fans per game.
The Ice Bats original GM & Head Coach (and part owner) was former NHL All-Star Blaine Stoughton. Along with Hall-of-Famer Bobby Hull, Stoughton was one of only two men to have a 50-goal season in both the NHL and the rival World Hockey Association.
But the Ice Bats were never known for their on-ice accomplishments. The level of play was several notches below the top minor hockey leagues. Despite two finals series appearances, the team failed to win in a league title either in the WPHL or in the Central Hockey League, after a 2001 merger saw the WPHL absorbed into the larger CHL. Instead, the team established a reputation built on classic minor league hucksterism, including promotions such as “Guaranteed Fight Night”.
Arena problems eventually doomed the team. The box office novelty wore off and crowds dwindled at the Travis County Exposition Center, a remote farm show arena nicknamed “The Bat Cave” by local hockey fans. Successive generations of Ice Bats investors pushed for a new arena development in downtown Austin or in nearby Cedar Park without success. In 2006 the Ice Bats moved to Chapparal Ice Arena, a tiny 2,000-seat rink next to a lingerie shop on Interstate 35. Crowds fell to fewer than 1,000 fans a game at Chap Ice.
Cedar Park finally approved a new $55 million arena, set to open in 2009. But instead of the Ice Bats, the Cedar Park Center would play host to the Texas Stars, the new top farm club of the NHL’s Dallas Stars. With the looming arrival of the Stars, the Ice Bats went dark in May 2008. The Ice Bats franchise continued to exist as an inactive member of the CHL for a time but nothing ever came of this and the team effectively went out of business as of the spring of 2008. The Central Hockey League folded in 2014.
The Ice Bats were the subject of the 2003 book Zamboni Rodeo by Texas Monthly writer Jason Cohen. (Cohen’s original 1997 article on the team is also in the Links section below). Zamboni Rodeo remains available on Amazon.
==Austin Ice Bats Programs on Fun While It Lasted==