pro ice hockey in Texas is a peculiar notion. As Zamboni
Rodeo illustrates, it's even weirder in practice.
For one thing, it's tough to keep the ice cold when
it's 90 degrees outside the arena and there's a fog
warning inside it. For another, some odd traditions
have been added to make the game more appropriate
to the location. At one memorable juncture in writer
Jason Cohen's season with the Austin Ice Bats of the
Western Professional Hockey League (WPHL), a crawfish
race provides some entertainment during a lacklustre
game with the Shreveport Mudbugs: "Four fans
run to center ice," writes Cohen, "scoop
up as many live, squirmy crustaceans as they can,
then go around some pylons at the blue line. When
the competition is over, the little mudbugs are quickly
taken off the ice, lest they sneak into Austin's zone
and score at will."
insider's look at the Ice Bats' 1998-99 season, Zamboni
Rodeo is a funny, gritty take on minor-league hockey
in one of its strangest recent chapters: the Texan
hockey boom. Begun in 1996, the WPHL quickly grew
to a peak of 18 teams, mostly in Texas and Louisiana
(it merged with the CHL last year). The boom ended,
but as of June 2001, Texas still had 10 pro minor-league
teams and one NHL franchise.
the rest of the WPHL teams, the Ice Bats have a roster
dominated by Canadian players. Some are too green
or too small to be taken up to the show, but talented
enough to shine in the minors. Others are mature guys
whose stints in more prestigious leagues are long
over, but who know that playing hockey is better than
a lot of jobs, even if the chances of getting punched
in the face are high.
a long-time contributor to SPIN and Rolling Stone,
delves into their lives and exposes some of the least
glamorous sides to pro sport -- the endless bus trips,
the punishing physical regimens and the lack of job
security. When the Ice Bats' fortunes slide, no one's
role is safe from the machinations of manager (and
former Maple Leaf) Blaine Stoughton. Zamboni Rodeo
is like reading a story in which even the most valiant
hero is always in danger of being shipped off into
another book in exchange for future considerations.
The large and ever-changing cast of characters sometimes
makes the book hard to follow. But Cohen successfully
conveys the camaraderie and conflict within the Ice
Bats camp, and brings some sense to an often surreal
set of circumstances.