San Angelo Hockey Team 'The Jesters' Bringing Back Sport With Nod to its Rowdy Past
SAN ANGELO, TX — The San Angelo Jesters embody everything that was once great about West Texas Hockey, and now they’re bringing back that old school hockey.
The hot Texas sun shined down onto the slab of barren cement. It was Sunday morning, and the sights and sounds of competition could be heard throughout every corner of Kirby Park. Sweat gleamed off the faces of the men as they glided across the burning concrete that slid effortlessly across the bottom of their skates. Some men wore jerseys filled with pads and a helmet, others strode down the sun-bathed rink with bare chest and backwards ballcap. The drops of sweat sizzled as they fell onto the broiling surface of the rink, but none of the men seemed to think or care about the oppressive heat that unceasingly bore down upon their backs. The skaters instead embraced the breeze that met them as they skated from one end to the other of the enclosed rink, all chasing the puck in unison, a delicate ballet and a brutal force all wrapped into the game of hockey – A remnant of a bygone era that hasn’t flourished within San Angelo city limits for nearly 2 decades.
They knew each other’s names, but rarely spoke them. It was all nicknames and grizzled epithets, profanity and joyous outbursts that punctuated the air thick with testosterone. Some were battle-hardened veterans, others were dropouts who lived for cigarettes, adult beverages, and the time they spent every week skating between the blue lines. No matter their age or appearance, they all had one thing in common; These men shared a bond that had been forged 20 years ago in a parking lot on Santa Fe – the birthplace of San Angelo roller hockey.
It was in a parking lot of a Bar, or so the old men say, to the advantage of some and the detriment of others. Under parking lot lights and on gritty asphalt that ground wheels to nubs, men and boys alike used to play the game. It was the golden era of Hockey in San Angelo; the San Angelo Outlaws were thriving, the teams were flush with players, and there was plenty of playing time if the lights stayed on and the beer stayed flowing.
From this Motley Crew of misfits came the Angelo Adult Hockey League – a well-funded, adequately run organization that facilitated the installation of the new hockey rink on the south side of Kirby Park with smooth cement, thicker boards, and brighter lights. It was the thriving youth league, the San Angelo Amateur Hockey Association (SAAHA) was the primary funding point for the new rink on the north side of the city. Hockey popularity driven by the interest in the local professional teams brought kids from all across the city together to learn and play hockey. It was the golden era of amateur hockey in the city, and it was supposed to build up the hockey pavilion with lights, stands, a snack bar, restrooms, everything to make San Angelo a premier hockey destination for teams playing in west Texas. That was the plan anyway. The city of San Angelo donated the land for the AAHL to build on, and San Angelo Central High School even scheduled the donation of some lights that were being replaced on its high school football field to complete the picture.
Fate, however, is a cruel mistress as even the best laid plans began to melt like a snowman in the Texas sun. The first sign of trouble for the hockey community began with the end of the San Angelo Saints franchise – the second and final professional franchise to exist in our little corner of West Texas. It was the end of an era in what was a thriving hockey culture. Soon thereafter, the city of San Angelo vetoed the installation of the lights for issues of “Light pollution” for nearby neighborhoods, and the Kirby Park Rink would remain without lighting to this very day.
For the AAHL, the infighting between the teams fractured the league, dooming it to dissolution over the next five years as the thereafter. The major diversions were between teams who wanted to continue to use the ball on the new smooth cement rink, while others wanted to change to the more traditional roller hockey puck since the game had been moved off the rough asphalt of the Santa Fe parking lot. On top of that, the role of hard contact fighting was brought into question, as many older players frowned upon the fights and heavy physicality during games while the younger players thrived on the hard-hitting roughhousing that had defined the sport for so long. Although the rules prohibited fighting in AAHL games, that didn’t stop players from bending the rules to the detriment of others who were more susceptible to injury.
So, between the roughhousing, the pucks, and the end of professional hockey; eventually players just stopped showing up to play at Kirby park altogether. The city saw the five year slow-motion dissolution of the AAHL as good excuse to annex the privately funded, privately built hockey rink into the City of San Angelo Parks & Recreation department. This allowed the rink to fall into disrepair, decomposing as it was slowly forgotten by a generation of Hockey players who would never again grace the oasis of West Texas hockey.
But what was lost was not completely forgotten.
Life was breathed back into the old school players as the rink found new life in 2017. Slowly but surely, the remnants of a once great hockey civilization met again at Kirby park, not just to play hockey, but to dominate the sport like the days of old.
They call themselves the Jesters, their dressing room is the curb at the edge of the Kirby parking lot —somewhere between the lit cigarettes and black coffee, and they are for now the premier hockey force in San Angelo. In 2018 at the inaugural West Texas Shootout Hockey Tournament, the collection of players brought back from the Santa Fe parking lot days saw players drive all the way from the metroplex to strap on the skates one more time – and made hockey history.
Above: The logo for the San Angelo Jesters.
The captain of the Jesters is their tall, dark, athletic forward Stephen Butler. Often adorned in full hockey gear with black jersey and helmet – even on the hottest summer days – his command of the rink is unwavering, as is his skating and shooting ability. He is known as “Steve-O” to his teammates, serves as Co-Director of San Angelo Hockey Club and is arguably the best skater in the city.
Defenseman Cody Wright, owner and operator of Wright Flooring, could be the fastest skater Kirby rink has ever seen, feasting on the opposition with breakaways and odd-man goals. What can’t be seen in his super lanky build is his terrifying slapshot that always seems to find its way into the back of the net. As an Unending self-promoter, when he does show up to the rink on Sundays you can find the live stream on Facebook with plenty of commentary.
Stephen and his wingman Cody Wright are the defensive power block of the Jesters, nicknamed “Salt & Pepper,” they use their familiarity and aggressive skating style to their advantage as they move the puck into the zone and score before the opposition knows what happened.
On offense the Jesters field a 1-2 punch of Andrew “Stoney” Stone and Mickey Provost. Stoney can most often be found skating shirtless with a backwards Philadelphia Flyer’s hat, talking loudly about his days playing hockey in New England, and how kids these days don’t know the first thing about real hockey. His ability to find the puck and manufacture points makes him a leading scorer for the Jesters and gives him gravitas as he takes the time during warm-ups to teach the newer skaters tips and tricks to elevate their game.
And where you see Stoney, Mickey isn’t far behind.
Don’t let the graying facial hair fool you, Mickey is the grinder who always knows where to be when the puck comes loose. A prolific scorer within 10 feet of the net, what mickey lacks in speed, he makes up for in stamina and passing ability. And while Mickey doesn’t fight like he used to back in hockey’s heyday, he has established himself has a force to be reckoned with so much so that the San Antonio team complained about his physicality, right after they lost to the Jesters in their April exhibition game.
Nick Garcia mans the pipes for the Jesters as the goal tender. Arguably the best goalie in West Texas, he was the recipient of the Most Valuable Goalie award following the 2018 West Texas Shootout hockey tournament. He frustrates players from Abilene to San Antonio, he works hard and plays hard as the anchor of the defense for the Jesters.
Justin Ahlers may be half of the namesake in J & T’s Welding LLC, but he is a complete player in the rink. He followed his father’s footstep and started playing hockey as a kid in the Santa Fe league, continuing on the family tradition to this day. The wit and creativity of Justin gave birth to the “Sanley Cup,” the annually awarded trophy for the West Texas Shootout hockey tournament. He helps run the welding business with his father Travis, who was also a skater back in the Santa Fe league as well as a major sponsor for both the San Angelo Outlaws and San Angelo Saints. The Ahlers family is a mainstay in the San Angelo Hockey Community, and without their continued support the yearly hockey tournament would not be a reality.
Mike Matinchek was the Finals MVP for the Jesters at last years tournament, as well as an active duty member of the Air Force and is currently stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base. He towers above the competition at 6’5” tall, plays a physical game, and ties goalies in knots with his quick strike mid-range one-timers. The last of the active duty military members who still attend hockey club games, he takes an active role in recruitment efforts for other service members living on Goodfellow AFB.
In the game of hockey, team familiarity and chemistry lead to wins. The San Angelo Jesters leverage their long tenured team chemistry all the way to the podium as they hoisted the “Sanley” Cup at the finale of the tournament in 2018. Now, as the defending cup champions, the Jesters look to extend their storied past from the humble beginnings in a bar parking lot into what has become the premier team in west Texas hockey. Their strategy to incorporate the next generation of hockey players in with the tried and true methods of years long past continues to find success no matter where they play. Their roughneck style of play and ability to score goals through seamless teamwork make them the favorite to repeat as 2019 West Texas Shootout champions and once again raise the “Sanley” Cup.
The 2019 West Texas Shootout Hockey Tournament will be played at Kirby Park in San Angelo Texas, December 7 and 8. Games start at 8:00 a.m.
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