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The Straight Edge: Troubled times deep in the heart of Texas

Senior right winger Wes Shirley and the rest of the Red Raiders are in the market for a new home rink. (Photo courtesy of Texas Tech Hockey)

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Senior right winger Wes Shirley and the rest of the Red Raiders are in the market for a new home rink. (Photo courtesy of Texas Tech Hockey)

The Texas Tech University Red Raiders always battle when they take to the ice, but it was a serious donnybrook at Lubbock City Hall that allowed them to keep their dreams alive this season.

The NCAA club team is a far cry from the Boston Colleges or University of Wisconsins of the world; the players are not NHL draft picks, the coaches don’t get paid and the rink is about 60 years old.

But due to a spat with the City of Lubbock, the Red Raiders almost didn’t even have that rink to play in. Confusion over the option to renew a lease on the facility saw the team scrambling after the City claimed the proper paperwork hadn’t gone through and the deal for 2008-09 was off.

Texas Tech director of game operations and corporate sales account manager Tim Castleman said that left the team in the lurch.

“It was a Thursday when we found out,” he said. “And literally, our first game was Friday.”

Lawyers got involved and since there was nothing booked at the rink anyway, the Red Raiders got a temporary reprieve. That’s when the team decided to pool its grassroots support.

“We had to get the word out,” Castleman said.

What followed was a standing-room-only town hall meeting and more acrimony with city council, who wanted to up the lease rate on Tech to $120,000 from the previous deal of $40,000 a year. In the end, a $60,000 fee was levied, which is certainly better than the original six-figure number, but still leaves Tech far in the hole.

The team was losing money to begin with, so fundraising will be key. One option dovetails nicely with the team’s need for a secure permanent home.

“We’ve applied to the T. Boone Pickens Energy Plan fund – we want to build a totally green arena,” Castleman noted. “Our future is going to rely on getting an arena ourselves, or retrofitting an existing building.”

Another high-profile name helping the cause is Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who signed a couple of brand-new Tech jerseys to be auctioned off by the team.

Sports have had a tough go in Lubbock lately. The Central League’s Cotton Kings suspended operations after the 2006-07 campaign, while an arena football team also failed to survive. Texas Tech basketball and football are the main draws, but the Red Raiders are trying to make their dent as well.

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Castleman said last year the team averaged about 1,000 fans per contest, but when the rival University of Texas Longhorns show up, that number jumps to 4,000. On the ice, the team is quite successful, often running up big goal totals on opponents, such as a recent 15-1 shellacking of North Texas.

Despite the team’s geographical remoteness in the hockey world, the Red Raiders feature players from Quebec, Boston, British Columbia and California, not to mention all over Texas itself.

“That’s a testament to our coach, Paul Fioroni,” Castleman said. “He played minor hockey (ending with just more than five seasons with the Cotton Kings) and his connections run pretty deep – we have scouts in Canada.”

Fioroni and his charges also soak up the volunteer hours through a number of charitable initiatives around Lubbock.

Despite the success and dedication, it’s still a tough go for the Red Raiders. After a successful home opener, attendance has inexplicably dwindled. The motives of the team are pure and it’s hard not to cheer for the underdog in a story of survival such as this one.

“If anyone wants to help out in terms of time, money, talent, we’d love to hear it,” Castleman said. “Everyone who helps here does it out of a love for the game. We’re trying to keep hockey in West Texas alive.”

For more information check out texastechhockey.com

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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