It wasn’t just the hockey community of Hidalgo that let out a held breath when the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees were miraculously saved from closure at the 11th hour last week.
The Laredo Bucks were pretty relieved, too.
“Rio Grande, you love to hate them,” Bucks general manager Nicole Kupaks said. “They’re an important piece of our franchise.
“We hate each other in a loving way, but we need each other. It’s a brother-sister relationship.”
Questions as to which team is the brother and which is the sister aside, the future of the Bucks was itself imperiled when the Bees’ struggles boiled to a head last week.
Bound at the hip
“It wouldn’t make sense for one of us to do anything different from the other, including one play and the other one not,” Bucks owner Glenn Hart said “At one point, we were aligned that whichever way one of us went, the other would go, including to not play.”
Like the old comedy routine where two antagonists are stuck together in handcuffs for an evening’s worth of entertainment, the Bucks and the Bees are a pair of rivals that won’t ever be able to be rid of each other without losing an arm in the process.
The two teams played each other 16 times last year; roughly a quarter of their respective seasons were spent either in Laredo or Hidalgo.
“When it comes to traveling a two and a half hour drive, you can practice in the morning here in Laredo, have lunch, bus ride (to the Valley), play your game, and bus ride back and you’re sleeping in your bed,” Bucks head coach Serge Dube said. “The next closest trip is Forth Worth, seven hours away, so (the proximity) is big.”
The rivalry angle is just as paramount to fans and players as the financial angle is to the front office,
“We’ve grown to hate each other on the ice during the past eight to nine years,” Dube said. “It’s great for the fans and it’s good for the players. They bring out that level of competitiveness.
“Those games, they’re very important to us to win. They could make or break (a season for) us.”
The two teams’ financial struggles turned their relationship into a game of chicken.
Each program knew it couldn’t exist without the other, but neither wanted to be the first to commit to the future of the CHL behind the closed doors of private owners meetings in fear the other would collapse afterward and leave them hung out to dry.
While the Bees were publicly stating their commitment to the CHL, Hart said it was the Bucks who first committed to the league behind closed doors.
“There was a point in there where I had to stick my neck out, because of the situation going on (with the Bees),” Hart said in reference to the Bees’ financial troubles and lawsuits. “It kept looking like it would be okay, but you didn’t know for sure.
“I committed without them having anything in place, just (on) my business judgment that they’d be okay and they’d be in.
“I was a little bit on a limb for a short period.”
Hart’s commitment to the league came between April 26 and May 4.
The Bees’ commitment to the league didn’t come until they were rescued from collapse on June 8.
It went down to the wire, but Hart’s gamble paid off.
“Rio Grande Valley (staying in the CHL) was huge for us,” he said. “The odds were it would work out, but in business of any kind you never know for sure until the documents are signed.”