reprinted from the Temple Daily Telegram, 12/06/01
'Zamboni Rodeo' a fun trip back to the ice age
Hockey in Texas. It's been a fascinating subject over
the years, inspiring passion among both its devotees
and detractors. Having covered the late, sometimes
great, but never dull, Western Professional Hockey
League for two years, Lone Star hockey is something
near and dear to this scribe.
Apparently, Austin writer Jason Cohen feels the same
way His recently published "Zamboni Rodeo: Chasing
Hockey Dreams from Austin to Albuquerque" chronicles
a season with the Austin Ice Bats.
Cohen's covered the Bats, a charter WPHL member and
now part of the new Central Hockey League, since their
inaugural 1996-97 season. He was given exclusive access
to the team for the 1997-98 season and his final product
provides a spellbinding look at the world of minor
For fans of the gone, but not forgotten, Central Texas
Stampede, there are some great anecdotes about the
fierce Austin-Central Texas rivalry. As Archie and
Edith once said, those were the days. The names in
"Zamboni Rodeo," like Seguin, Haviland, Ross and Anderson,
will be familiar to Bell County fans. But there's
room for guys named Mailhot and Zurba, with a priceless
story about the latter's postgame celebration after
a Central Texas victory over Austin.
"I actually think Stampede fans will enjoy this book
more than fans in any other WPHL city, just because
it was such a great rivalry and they probably visited
the Austin rink quite a bit during those years," Cohen
said. "The truth is, I'm in trouble if anyone, including
the Bats fans, only care about the book because it's
about a particular Austin team. It's meant to be a
universal story of the unique way of life minor league
hockey players have in Texas."
Cohen, a Philadelphia native and life-long Flyers
fan (we won't hold that against him), said he found
something fascinating about Canadian and northern
guys coming to the Southwest to play hockey in the
low minor leagues.
"I was struck by the novelty and energy of hockey
in Texas," Cohen said. "Mostly, I was blown away that
there were almost 100 teams all over America doing
the same sort of thing in relative obscurity. It struck
me as a story that had never been told. "I found it
both compelling and insane that these guys would come
so far to play the game they love with so little chance
"Zamboni Rodeo" takes the reader to places that unfor-tunately
a newspaper can't. Like when the team bus breaks down
in the middle of the night outside Ellinger or lunch
at one of San Angelo's finest Italian restaurants.
There's also the night Cohen spent watching a game
from the Austin bench. And you can find out what a
player really thinks when he gets traded.
Ah, the players. Minor league hockey is driven, more
than anything, by the players. The amount of affection
and loyalty hockey fans have toward their favorite
players is amazing. In what other sport can you find
fans from Bell County, Texas, wearing the sweater
of a player from Revelstoke, British Columbia?
The players are definitely the epicenter of Cohen's
book, as they should be, and it's hard not to take
sides as you get to know various Ice Bats over the
course of the season.
So what did the author think of his subjects after
spending a season with them?
"I don't know if I thought of anyone differently,
other than to have a better idea of how many indignities
they suffer just to be able to play, and what a wide
range of characters go into a team," Cohen said. "I
think when I went into it, I thought the story would
be happier than it was, because of the 'love of the
game' thing, but I soon found out that the politics,
greed, in-fighting and strained relations with the
owners made minor league hockey no different from
"And nobody learned that (lesson) harder than the
fans in Bell County and Waco."
For fans of the Stampede, a month from today will
mark the one-year anniversary of the team's final
While it's impossible to bring the Stampede back,
the memories of the glory days of the WPHL are well-chronicled
in "Zamboni Rodeo." It's a rollicking slap shot through
Southwestern hockey's and a must-read for those that
enjoyed Bell County's first "ice age." For more information
on the book, visit its Web site at www.zambonirodeo.com.