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Tumbleweeds and hockey sticks: the return of hockey in West Texas

Olivia O'Rand
Texas Tech Public Media

The closest ice rink to Lubbock and the Texas Tech community is 123 miles north in Amarillo.

Texas is known for its football fanaticism. But the panhandle has its very own North American Hockey League team, The Amarillo Wranglers.

Started in 2003, over the years the Wranglers transitioned to new teams in Santa Fe and Topeka, before their return to Amarillo in 2020.

Ben Ivey, the Wrangler’s captain, and Jack Ivey, the team's forward, are twins from Southern California. The twins began skating when they were 4 years-old and shortly after, started playing hockey. Years down the line, the Ivey twins were entered into the NAHL trade after one year of playing in Washington. With no idea where they were going to end up, they landed in the largest city the Texas Panhandle has to offer.

A quick Google search was all the brothers had for reference before they headed south. Cowboys were an expectation but instead, they landed in a community of hockey lovers rooting for the city’s very own team. Being the first time the brothers had been to Texas, the Iveys said they were used to the nice weather of the West Coast and were in for the seasons of the South.

The South has one of the lowest rates of hockey teams and ice rinks in the nation. With the Wranglers being so far from their opponents, away games make for long hours on the bus. Texas has drive times that are a lot longer than other divisions. The shortest bus ride clocks in at four hours and takes the team to Albuquerque. The longest ride can last up to 10 hours and will only get the team to the other side of Texas.

Lauren Corea

While the rides may be long, Ben Ivey said it gives the team a chance to get to know each other and spend time together outside of being on the ice.

Travel isn’t new for the Ivey brothers though. Eventually, the twins moved to Anaheim to play hockey and traveled two hours to practice daily. Living in Southern California was a gateway into travel hockey that would take the brothers to tournaments as far as Canada.

In an area where hockey is not as prevalent, the brothers said they are able to stay motivated by setting goals for their careers and future.

“All of us are just trying to play hockey in college, earn a scholarship, and maybe go on to play professional hockey after that,” Jack Ivey said.

Lauren Corea

The Iveys are both committed to playing Division I hockey at West Point in New York.

Jack said that there are a limited number of Division I hockey schools within the nation and most of them are concentrated around the Northeast. Similarly, the National Hockey League has 25 teams within the United States with the majority being in the Northeast.

However, that all may be changing. Guy Chiarenza, the director of broadcasting and media for the Amarillo Wranglers, said in a phone interview, that he believes that many people may have preconceived notions and may be scared to give the sport a chance. But a closer look at the team may show them otherwise.

“The Wranglers, they’re thriving,” Chiarenza said.

The team is doing more than just bringing fun on the ice to the arid conditions of Texas. Kids in the area have had their eye on the team and are deciding they want to try out the sport for themselves.

Ben Ivey said players from the team often help at youth practices and want to see young players grow.

“It helps a lot with the little kids when they see ‘Wow, the captain of the Wranglers is coming out and helping me practice late at night,’ ” Ben Ivey said.

But it’s not just the kids. The Adult leagues have seen growth with the influence of the Wranglers. Fans are learning how to skate and pushing up through the adult leagues, helping to grow hockey in the Texas Panhandle.

Olivia O’Rand is a sophomore journalism and biology student at the Texas Tech Honors College. After discovering her love for nature at a young age, Olivia is focusing on environmental journalism and covering people who are passionate about their work in the outdoors.