Roller Hockey International (1995-1996)
Born: March 20, 1995 – The Atlanta Fire Ants relocate to Oklahoma City.
Died: February 1997 – The Coyotes go on hiatus and later move to Las Vegas.
Arena: Myriad Convention Center (13,398)
Team Colors: Red, Black & Gold
The Oklahoma Coyotes played two seasons of summer Roller Hockey at the Myriad Convention Center. The franchise began life in Atlanta, Georgia in 1994 as an expansion team in Roller Hockey International, but left after one season of disappointing attendance in that city’s Omni Coliseum. The new Oklahoma investors, Don Smith of Oklahoma City and John O’Shea of New York, hoped to capitalize on the massive popularity at the time of the Oklahoma City Blazers ice hockey team. During the mid-1990’s the Blazers were one of the biggest box office draws in all of minor league hockey.
The success of the Blazers failed to rub off. The Coyotes averaged an estimated 2,200 fans per game during their two-year residency at the 13,000-seat Myriad. In December 1996, local investor Don Smith gave up his interest in the team, leaving no real connection to the city. The team claimed it couldn’t get decent dates for the summer of 1997 at the Myriad and explored moving permanently to Billy Balloo’s, a recreational roller hockey arena that already served as the Coyote’s practice facility. When that move failed, the Coyotes withdrew from Roller Hockey International in February 1997 to re-group and attempt to return to play in 1998. In December 1997, the Coyotes moved their operations to Las Vegas.
RHI itself shut down in late 1997 to re-organize and did not play in 1998. The league made a comeback attempt in 1999 and long-time Coyotes owner John O’Shea took the team out of mothballs after a two-and-a-half year absence. The Las Vegas Coyotes played one final campaign at a 1,500-seat arena in Nevada before Roller Hockey International went out of business for good in 2000.
Down on the rink, the Coyotes failed to make the playoffs in either of their seasons in Oklahoma. Winger Doug Lawrence was a bright spot in 1995, leading RHI in total scoring (23 goals, 68 assists).