As a displaced Red Wings fan in south Texas, it was natural for me to gravitate towards the local hockey team, regardless of affiliation or level of play. My first game was opening night, ten years ago. The hometown Rampage took on the Grand Rapids Griffins, affiliate of my Red Wings. I cheered wildly for the visitors that night and left disappointed after an overtime loss to the home team. Little did I know how far I would get sucked into this world of AHL hockey and the disappointment that would follow for the next decade.
I have been asked by outsiders, and even former season ticket holders and fans, why I continue to subject myself to year after year of letdown and false hope. I don’t expect anyone to understand, and for those that have abandoned the team, I don’t really blame you. See, the problem is, I’m a hockey fan, first and foremost. There is no greater sport to watch live than ice hockey. The sounds of the game cannot be matched. If given an option, I would turn off broadcasters at home just to listen to the sounds of skates cutting through the ice and pucks being crisply passed from stick to stick.
There’s no other sport that combines beauty and grace with sheer brute force and violence like hockey. I’m not talking two guys punching each other violence, either. I’m talking about clean, open ice hits and exhausting battles in the corner for that tiny piece of vulcanized rubber. The things these players do to win a puck battle, score a goal, and ultimately, win a game leave me in awe every single night.
The San Antonio Rampage have not been a successful franchise in their 15 year history. Four playoff appearances. Just one playoff series win. Four affiliations. Many seasons, the team is near the bottom of the league offensively, defensively, or sometimes in both categories. Fans have come and gone and yet, here I sit. Not only investing my money into the team, but as this website and our show demonstrate, a lot of time as well. So why do I do it?
It’s simple really. The memories.
- The memory of watching a horrible AHL Live feed of Roman Deryluk’s game winning overtime goal against Chicago in the 2012 playoffs.
- The memory of watching players like Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, and Keith Yandle wear the sweater of my favorite team.
- The memory of later seeing Vincent Trocheck and Jacob Markstrom wear that same sweater.
- The memory of seeing the tweet that Manny Legace had been signed to a tryout, then watching Legace don the bull on opening night—only to be knocked out with an injury after 20 minutes and never be seen again.
- The memory of being there when Wade Megan scored his first AHL goal on his first AHL shot. There are many other firsts as well, but this one stands out.
- The memory of being one of a couple hundred fans to stick around to see a bad Rampage team come back from a 5-2 deficit at the second intermission to beat a really good Grand Rapids team on a Sunday afternoon.
- It’s the friends I’ve made. Mike Lavender, JC Carpenter, The Venegas’, and JP and Topher. We all share in the joys and the pain, because it’s what we choose to do.
- Jed Ortmeyer, Dany Heatley, Petr Prucha, Ryan Whitney…you get the idea.
As I watch players reach their NHL milestones, I remember back to when they played here. As a hockey fan, that means something to me.
I’ll be the first to admit, there are times it’s difficult to make it to the stadium or to go drop a good chunk of cash to renew for the next season. It’s hard to listen to everyone say, “Maybe next year” or “On paper, these guys should be really good”. It’s easy to walk away from your favorite team when they’ve had the history our Rampage have had.
The hard thing to do is stick with it.
Every summer, I develop that sense of hope. It’s a fresh start. A clean slate. Maybe that’s silly of me. Who knows? It’s what makes me a fan, though.
I won’t think less of anyone who gives up and walks away. As long as you don’t think less of me for sticking with it, no matter how low it gets.
I don’t know if this team will ever win anything of significance. No one ever does in sports, especially in the minor leagues. I can promise you one thing though, if they ever do, I’ll be there, in the seat I call my own for 38 nights a year, wearing my Rampage sweater. I can’t walk away.
I love the sport too much.