Born: 1994 – IHL expansion franchise.
Died: April 18, 2013 – The Aeros announce they will move to Des Moines, IA.
- 1994-2003: Chuck Watson
- 2003-2008: Minnesota Sports & Entertainment (Bob Naegele)
- 2008-2013: Minnesota Sports & Entertainment (Craig Leipold)
The Houston Aeros were formed as an International Hockey League expansion team in 1994 by Chuck Watson, CEO of Houston energy trading firm Dynegy. The Aeros were a brand revival of the popular World Hockey Association club of the 1970’s, who famously featured ageless Hall-of-Famer Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty.
The modern day Aeros played their early seasons in the IHL, and ambitious but unsustainable minor league that featured big budgets, cross-continental air travel and occasional cross-border raids to sign NHL stars to short-term deals during contract holdouts. The Aeros were a box office hit upon their arrival in the mid-1990’s, averaging over 10,000 fans per game at the old Houston Summit during their first two seasons. Attendance declined year-over-year for all seven seasons that the Aeros played in the IHL, but those who stuck around were rewarded with an outstanding team and perennial title contender. From 1997 to 2005, the Aeros made the playoffs for nine straight seasons.
The Aeros won their first and only Turner Cup championship of the IHL in the spring of 1999. After posting a league-best record of 54-15-13 in the regular season, the Aeros outlasted the Orlando Solar Bears 4 games to 3 in the best-of-seven Turner Cup finals. Brian Wiseman led the IHL in scoring that season (109 pts.) and was named MVP of the league.
The IHL collapsed under its own weight and went out of business in May of 2001. The Aeros were one of six IHL survivors that were admitted to the American Hockey League for the 2001-2002 season. At the same time that the Aeros entered the AHL, they signed an affiliation deal to become the top farm club of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild. In 2003, stocked with Wild prospects, the Aeros defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs to capture the AHL’s Calder Cup championship.
Even more so than the transition from IHL to the AHL in 2001, the summer of 2003 following the Aeros’ Calder Cup victory brought massive change to the Aeros franchise. The old Summit/Compaq Center finally shut down after years of political wrangling. The Aeros and the NBA’s Houston Rockets would both move into the brand new $235 million Toyota Center in the autumn of 2003. Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that team founder Chuck Watson decided to sell the Aeros to Minnesota Sports & Entertainment, parent company of the NHL’s Wild, at this time.
During the late 1990’s Watson controlled the Compaq Center and Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander was his tenant. Alexander pushed for a new downtown arena and pushed to break his lease at Watson’s building, which ran through 2003. Watson refused to release the Rockets from their lease and led political opposition to the new arena project, helping to deal a shocking referendum defeat to the project in late 1999. (Watson and Alexander’s arena feud also played a role in sinking Houston’s NHL expansion bid in the late 1990’s.) But after the NBA threatened Houston with the loss of pro basketball if a new arena was not in the city’s plans, the project got back on track. The Toyota Center would open in 2003 and this time the roles would be reversed: Alexander would control the building and Watson would be the tenant. Watson sold out to the Wild two months before the Toyota Center opened, retaining only a small minority stake in the Aeros.
The Aeros made one more championship run in the spring of 2011, advancing to the Calder Cup finals before losing there to the Binghamton Senators.
At the end of the 2012-13 season the Aeros 10-year lease expired at Toyota Center. Although the team remained one of the stronger box office draws in the AHL (6,793 per game, good for 7th among the AHL’s 30 clubs), Minnesota Sports & Entertainment could not come to terms on a new lease with Toyota Center. On April 18, 2013, the Wild announced that the Aeros would relocate to Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa for the 2013-14 season and be known henceforth as the Iowa Wild. A few weeks later, the Aeros were eliminated by the Grand Rapids Griffins (another IHL refugee) in the Calder Cup Playoffs, bringing the Aeros era to an end after 19 seasons.
The Aeros’ IHL debut on October 7, 1994 goes to a shootout against the Atlanta Knights at a sold-out Summit.
The Aeros defeat the Hamilton Bulldogs in Game 7 to win the 2003 Calder Cup.