NORTH RICHLAND HILLS (CBSDFW.COM) - On a balmy Tuesday night, the shoebox is rocking.
That’s in spite of the fact that with 3 minutes left in the first period the Texas Brahmas had to pull goalie Ken Carroll out of the game after the visiting Wichita Thunder hung 3 goals on him.
“No worries, he’s just a little rusty,” one fan yells in support of the benching as rookie ‘netminder’ Mark Guggenberger goes in to replace Carroll.
Shortly after the switch, fans get a call from the referee they don’t like. The clanging of cowbells, stomping on the metal bleachers, and loud razzing lets everyone in a one-mile radius know of their displeasure.
Guggenberger, the Central Hockey League‘s rookie of the year, stops most of the bleeding, but the Brahmas still lose 6-5 on a late empty-net goal.
In a way, some fans are relieved the Brahmas lost. For them, that sets up what they consider the perfect scenario. With the loss, the Brahmas will face the cross-town Allen Americans in the first round of the CHL playoffs, and the fans are ready for their rival.
Backing up, many fans see the Texas Brahmas, who moved to North Richland Hills in 2007, as the continuation of hockey history in Fort Worth. From the days of being the New York Rangers farm club in the 1940s to the longtime partnership with the Detroit Red Wings, Fort Worth has been viewed as a hockey outpost for a long time.
Fans like Wesley Binney from Grand Prairie said moving in to the 3,000 seat NYTEX center hasn’t hurt the team at all, and probably enhanced it. “We have really good supporters, it helps having a smaller arena, because down here everyone can hear you.”
He leads fans in a “Let’s go Brahmas!” cheer as he clangs his cowbell against the handrail. “‘Rowdy, Loud and Proud’ has nothing on us,” he yells over the noise.
Just behind Binney, Fort Worth resident Larry Westmoreland has been a local hockey fan since the Fort Worth Wings days. “We make it miserable on the other guys,” he said next to his ’303 Rowdies’ banner. Westmoreland and a small group started the ‘rowdies’ in section 303 of the Fort Worth Convention Center before the Brahmas were even around. Since moving over to NYTEX, he’s been at center ice above the visiting bench. “It’s the hardest place to play in the world,” he laughs.
The other CHL teams seem to agree with him. The Brahmas recently picked up the ‘Most Annoying Fans’ and ‘Toughest Building to Win In’ crowns in the CHL Best of the Best poll, much on the backs (and throats) of guys like Westmoreland and Binney. “It gives us an edge,” says Westmoreland. “When the Brahmas talk after the game, they say the fan support and noise always helps.”
That’s especially true against Allen. Part of hockey lore in North Texas is the rivalry between Fort Worth and Dallas teams, and now that the Americans are playing in Collin County, nothing has really changed. “It’s still the same Fort Worth versus Dallas rivalry,” says Brahmas General Manager Mike Barack. “Only now, the rivalry has moved to the suburbs, just like many of the people.”
“It’s good to have a rival,” says Westmoreland.
The rivalry is especially made sweeter to the fans because Allen’s head coach is Dwight Mullins, a former player for the Fort Worth Fire, the team that proceeded the Brahmas in the CHL. He captained them to the CHL title in 1997. But what makes him really special to them is he’s a former coach for the Brahmas.
His assistant happens to be Bill McDonald, the coach of the Fire the year they won the CHL and the very first head coach of the Brahmas.
These fans know the men well. “Their coaches are our old coaches,” says Westmoreland. “It brings a lot of fun to the game, we know their tricks.”
But, he adds, despite being rivals now, they still like McDonald and Mullins. “When it’s all done, we’re still glad to see them, we’re all friends again.”
The Brahmas will host at least two games of the playoff series, and that means the fans will be out in spades. “This place will be rocking before they even hit the ice,” Westmoreland promises. “It’ll be like we’re Scottish warriors, slapping the shields before battle.”
If Tuesday’s game has any foreshadowing, his description isn’t hyperbolic in any way. As soon as the Thunder arrived back on the ice after the first intermission, a fan in a purple bodysuit was behind the bench banging away on a bass drum. And more importantly, the moment the refs’ skate touched the ice a steady stream of boos erupted, bouncing off the low ceiling.
“We put up a fight.” Binney says confidently.
And they will. The series begins Friday March 30 in Allen. The Brahmas first home game will be Game 3 on Wednesday April 4 at 7:00 p.m. Fans can get ticket information at brahmas.com or at (817) 336-4423. But you’re on your own for earplugs and/or cowbells.