SAN ANTONIO – Hockey fans around San Antonio were stunned by last week’s announcement that the Rampage franchise had been sold to the Vegas Golden Knights.
The news was just as shocking to the Rampage coaching staff and players.
“We didn’t find out until 10-15 minutes before the announcement,” said head coach Drew Bannister. “My cell phone was blowing up immediately after it happened, with people asking a lot of questions, and we really didn’t have a lot of answers for them."
With the team in town for a brief reprieve during their 10-game ‘Rodeo Road Trip,’ Bannister and team captain Jordan Nolan were made available to KSAT 12 for the first time since the news broke. Neither was able to provide a concrete reason for why the 18-year franchise is leaving the Alamo City.
“The fact of that matter is that the announcement was made, and it was made quickly without a lot of heads up," Bannister explained. "For the coaching staff and the players, we’re extremely disappointed. I’ve been around long enough to know that there are business decisions that are made that aren’t always going to keep everyone happy. But on our end, it’s uncontrollable. Our players love it here. They love playing here. As a staff, we love being here. It’s a great city, a great franchise, and it has great support. We’re all disappointed by the outcome here.”
Not counting offseason trades or acquisitions, none of the Rampage players, coaches or ancillary staff will make the move to Vegas with the franchise. As a result, the Blues organization will have to look for a different AHL affiliate to house their up-and-coming talent. Life in professional hockey is often transient, especially in the AHL, where players are constantly on the road, or moving up and down between leagues. With that in mind, the players know as much as it hurts to leave, it hurts the San Antonio hockey community more.
“It’s out of our hands. Guys are a little shocked, a little disappointed, but I think they just feel for the fans and the community," said Nolan. "The fans should know how much the guys love playing here. They haven’t had too many deep runs in the playoffs here, and the fans still come out and cheer for us every night. We have a lot of season ticket holders and fans that come to fan appreciation night, and they let us know when we’re doing a great job. Guys feel for the people that have been supporting this team for a long time. We’re definitely going to miss the Texas weather and playing in front of all of those people.”
“Through St. Louis, Colorado, Florida and the rest, they’ve always supported the team, regardless of the NHL prospects that came through here," Bannister explained. “Our players have built a really good relationship with people here. I’ve met people that weren’t necessarily hockey people when we started. They’re now Rampage fans. Our fanbase has been really good for us. We know that because we travel around to different cities and see other fanbases. We have one of the best, and I’m proud of the work we’ve done off the ice in bringing people to our games and introducing people that weren’t hockey fans to the game.”
Twelve home games remain on the schedule for the Rampage. That’s twelve more chances for the team to give back to San Antonio with a strong performance on the ice. As a sense of finality creeps in, the main message remains to finish strong.
“We just hope the fans come out and support us,” Nolan explained. “We’re still in the playoff hunt right now. We’d love to end on a positive note, get in the playoffs and make a memorable push for the fans that have been here for a long time.”
“As players and coaches, there are things we can’t control,” Bannister said. “We don’t make the decisions that were made in this instance. For us, all that we can control is playing hockey the best that we can right now, moving forward and winning hockey games. I hope someday, these people get to watch hockey again sooner rather than later. They deserve it. They’ve been great to us for my two years here. We appreciate the support that they’ve given us, and I wish them the best.”
The Rampage will continue their Rodeo Road Trip with a doubleheader against the Texas Stars on Friday and Saturday night. The puck drops for both games at 7 p.m. San Antonio will return home to the AT&T Center on Friday, Feb. 28 to host the Grand Rapids Griffins.