The kiddos hit the ice early in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where the Rapid City Rush play, and the team’s mascot, “Nugget,” is a fan favorite. From parades and classrooms to dressing up in costumes for big promotional nights, Nugget continues to be an icon in the Black Hills. The New Mexico Raptors will have a contest to name their mascot. (Courtesy ECHL)
With a formal announcement expected soon of an ECHL hockey team coming to Rio Rancho, playing its home games at the Rio Rancho Events Center, there’s been a “power play” of sorts going on behind the scenes to foster interest and make the New Mexico Raptors’ stay a success story.
Three hockey teams have called Rio Rancho home in the past, but none lasted even a handful of seasons. The ECHL – its proper name since it was changed from East Coast Hockey League in 2003 – is a Class AA league, one division below the Class AAA American Hockey League, which is one step below the National Hockey League.
The Raptors will likely play 36 home games in the 2023-24 season, and several entities are stirring interest, hopefully not only attracting longtime hockey fans, but those new to the sport who want some excitement in their lives.
The team has its logo, and features Navajo accents and a Zia symbol. What’s yet to be released is its NHL affiliation.
This much is known about the Raptors: Open tryouts will take place next July and most practices will be held at The MAC, where a new Raptors-only locker room will be prepared.
Also, Raptors local representative Joe Cordova said, ticket prices will be lower than for other local sports teams – New Mexico United, Albuquerque Isotopes, UNM Lobos – and the team will most likely have a Scorpions Night, celebrating a team that “went before,” with special pricing.
New Mexico Amateur Hockey Association (nmaha.org): The Arizona Coyotes returned to The MAC for the second summer in a row, giving youngsters the opportunity to try hockey for free with the Coyotes’ outreach team.
That “Try Hockey for Free” promotion took place Aug. 19.
The youth league’s season starts Oct. 3. At the recent board meeting, which took place Aug. 9 at The MAC, board members lamented the drop-off in youths playing hockey, which began with the advent of the pandemic, but they’re hopeful of resurrecting interest and the number of participants soon.
New Mexico Raptors: Partnering with RJ Sports LLC, former Rio Ranchoan Marc Ciaccio of the New York Rangers is in town this week for 3-day skills and speed clinics, intended for players ages 6-18 at The MAC.
Also for younger hockey enthusiasts, the clinic will be divided into two groups, those ages 6-12 and those ages 13-18; there is a maximum of 35 skaters for each group.
The clinics run the evenings of Aug. 23, 24 and 25, with the younger group going first and the older kids skating after them. (For more information and/or to register, visit nmaha.org. Once each group reaches 35 skaters, no further registrations will be accepted.)
The MAC Cup: In July, the third annual Mac Cup adult hockey tournament was contested — that’s right, “adults” — and that included a wide range of ages.
“The MAC Cup … has grown into a huge hit, bringing teams from Albuquerque, Durango and Colorado Springs to Rio Rancho,” said organizer Oscar Solis of Rio Rancho. “Our teams then stay here and eat here, especially at Turtle Mountain Brewery, where Nico (Ortiz) gave every person 20 percent off the food menu if they mentioned the tournament. It was very cool to have such community support.”
Desert Sol Inline: Solis, a hockey fanatic who moved to New Mexico from Alaska, has arranged for youngsters to learn inline skating from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Mondays at The MAC.
There are two packages available: single, one-day lessons, or six weeks’ worth. For information on the inline program, visit here.
That way, kids can play hockey outdoors on concrete, such as on unused parking lots and enjoy the game away from The MAC – and start to appreciate the game’s nuances.
And, Solis told the Observer, “ … we’re talking back and forth about the possibility of using an outdoor Rio Rancho facility, like a tennis court or basketball court, someplace in the city.”