SAN ANTONIO – Since news broke in early February that Spurs Sports & Entertainment had sold the Rampage franchise to the Vegas Golden Knights, San Antonio coaches and players were nervous about the reception they would receive from fans after returning from a month-long, 10-game Rodeo Road Trip.
Moments after the puck dropped between the Rampage and Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday night, those fears disappeared.
Full-throated chants of “We want hockey!” echoed throughout the AT&T Center, replacing the standard cheer of “Let’s Go Rampage!" Those cheers got louder, as the Rampage sent the fans home happy with a 4-2 victory -- the team’s sixth win in the last seven games.
“It’s a great hockey community here," said head coach Drew Bannister. "They’ve supported us well all year, and I thought they’d be there to support us now, especially with the way the guys have played since the announcement. It gives them something extra to cheer for, and hopefully we can give them some meaningful extra hockey down the stretch.”
“That’s the most people I’ve played in front of in so long,” said forward Josh Ho-Sang. “It was awesome.”
“We had a great crowd tonight,” said center Tanner Kaspick. “They were loud, and they always are. We’re definitely going to cherish the rest of the season and finish it off as best we can.”
Twelve seconds after the Griffins opened the scoring, forward Mike Vecchione crashed the net and put home the equalizer off a short rebound. Tanner Kaspick added another with 32 seconds left in the first period to give the Rampage a 2-1 heading into the first intermission.
Rampage fans loud and proud this evening on Military appreciation night, vocal in their support of hockey in San Antonio - Mike Vecchione (@Mvecc8) gets @sarampage on the board midway through the first period, as the Rampage lead 2-1 after one #KSATsports pic.twitter.com/140RJHZsLn— Andrew Cely (@ACelySports) February 29, 2020
There was plenty of drama in the second period. With just over 2 minutes left before intermission, Vecchione appeared to double the Rampage’s lead with another rebound put-back, but the goal was waved off. After a short review, the referee ruled that the call on the ice stood, and San Antonio headed to locker room with their one goal lead intact.
“There’s no question he scored. There’s no question," Bannister said. "It should have been a goal. The refs made the wrong call. It happens in the game, but hopefully it didn’t hurt us.”
Grand Rapids seized the momentum early in the final period, tying the game up with a power play goal, but San Antonio answered with an unlikely goal from new acquisition Josh Ho-Sang. After landing in the Alamo City yesterday afternoon, Ho-Sang put home a beautiful no-look feed from Jordan Nolan to give the Rampage the lead for good. Nolan added an empty-netter late to provide the final margin.
“I picked up Josh at the airport yesterday right around 5 p.m. I thought he played outstanding," Bannister explained. "We haven’t had a lot of practice time. We had a quick skate this morning. You don’t over-inundate any new guy coming in with new information, so we tried to keep it simple with him. He’s a really smart hockey player. He can skate extremely well and he’s very skilled.”
“It’s pretty cool," Ho-Sang said. "It’s nice that it happened like that. It was a great pass from Nolan, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
The Rampage will return to the ice on Sunday to host the Rockford IceHogs. Puck drop is scheduled for 3:00 p.m.
The warm welcome was somewhat muddied by some bitter pre-game news. Roughly four hours before puck drop, the AHL Board of Governors officially approved the sale of the San Antonio AHL franchise to the Vegas Golden Knights. As a result, the Rampage will relocate to Henderson, Nevada and likely be rebranded in coordination with their new NHL affiliate.
There has been no official word regarding the Blues’ status in the AHL, or what this means for the players currently on the Rampage roster.