For the Texas Tornado, there’s no place like home.
Make that a newly decked out home, one the team will christen this weekend when the South Division rival Topeka RoadRunners come to town for a two-game set on Friday and Saturday.
With Texas amidst a one-year hiatus from the NAHL, the Tornado’s rink, the Dr Pepper Arena in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, underwent a serious makeover and the finished product is drawing rave reviews.
“As nice as it was before, it’s now the best facility of its size in the country,” said Tornado head coach Tony Curtale, who also serves as the team’s president.
Seating capacity was bumped up by over 1,000 from 3,733 seats to 4,944, and the expanded facility also spared no expense with additional suites, new restrooms and concourse concession stands, an enhanced promenade and three new video boards.
A concourse-level club lounge was also added with direct access to suites on the west side of the arena, and a new parking garage was erected to accommodate 1,000 more spaces.
“It’s a beautiful place, and it’s better than any other I’ve seen in the U.S.,” said Curtale. “It was very nice before, but this has all the bells and whistles now.”
All the rink upgrades aside, buzz around town has been building since the Tornado announced it was returning to the league last spring.
“The response we’ve gotten has been extremely positive,” said Curtale, who has guided the team to four Robertson Cup championships during his tenure as coach. “People are thrilled the Tornado is back, and that we’re back in the fabric of the city and the area.”
That should translate into tired turnstiles by the end of the weekend.
“We’re expecting a good crowd and a very enthusiastic crowd,” he said. “There’s a lot of loyal people who have been Tornado people for 10 years now.”
In other action around the NAHL this weekend, the defending Central Division champion Bismarck Bobcats also open their home schedule. They’ll tangle with the West Division’s Alaska Avalanche for a two-game set beginning on Friday.
With an 0-2-2 mark at last week’s NAHL Showcase Tournament, Bobcats head coach Byron Pool is hoping some hometown support will help right the ship.
“We haven’t started the year quite the way we wanted to, but now we have a chance to bounce back in front of the home crowd here at the VFW (Sports Center), which would be great,” he said.
“There were a lot of positives from the Showcase, but also a lot of things we’re going to need to improve. It all starts with effort, though, so I’m expecting to see a renewed effort from all of our guys this weekend.”
The Fairbanks Ice Dogs will also stay in the Lower 48 this weekend, visiting the North Division's Marquette Rangers for a pair of tilts on Friday and Saturday.
Optimistic after going a formidable 3-1 at the Showcase, Rangers head coach Kenny Miller isn’t losing focus on continual improvement as the divisional schedule nears.
“The Showcase was great, but that was last week,” he said. “We’re really trying to focus in on today, and what we need to do today to be a better hockey team.
“We’re pleased with what we’ve seen so far, but we’re really trying to get across to the guys that everyday is important. We’re not talking about playoffs, we’re not talking about points in the division, we’re not talking about next week; we’re truly working on just being as good of a hockey team today as we can be.”
In other games this weekend, the Showcase champion Wenatchee Wild travels to Alpena for a three-game set against the IceDiggers, while the Springfield Jr. Blues bus to Wichita Falls for two games against the Wildcats.
The Kenai River Brown Bears will play a pair on the road against the North Iowa Outlaws, with the Albert Lea Thunder hosting the Alexandria Blizzard on Friday and the Owatonna Express on Saturday.