ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was a sunny weekday morning. That part was not in any way unusual in the scenic American Southwest, where clouds and precipitation are seen about as often as one sees a goalie get called for a penalty.
A less-expected sight in this part of the world was a hockey arena — a beautiful two-sheet rink with stadium seating — perched high on a hill in the northeast corner of Albuquerque, with a view of the Sandia Mountains on one side and the sprawling Rio Grande Valley on the other.
And to see one of the well-known names in Minnesota broadcasting inside that arena, working on a fix for a broken seat in advance of his hockey team’s next home game, pretty well completed the picture of things you may not have expected in New Mexico.
Stanley E. Hubbard II, 58, has roots in the state where his grandfather (also named Stanley E. Hubbard) started a small Twin Cities radio station in 1925. From those humble beginnings, Hubbard Broadcasting was born, and today the family’s wealth is estimated in the billions.
Like many Minnesota kids, Stan developed a love of hockey while growing up in the St. Croix River Valley and getting an education at Stillwater High School and later at the University of Minnesota.
And when the family business took Hubbard and his wife to New Mexico — now the home base of Reelz, the cable and satellite channel owned by Hubbard Broadcasting — Stan made sure that hockey was a part of life for their three sons, even in a place with no backyard ice rinks.
“I got down here a little more than 10 years ago. Our oldest at the time was 4 and had been skating for a few years already. He wanted to play hockey, and I didn’t even know if we could find a hockey program,” Hubbard recalled. “We found Outpost Ice Arena and the New Mexico Ice Hockey Foundation program and the kids started playing. Today I have my 14-year-old playing, my 12-year-old is a sled hockey player and my 9-year-old is on the squirt team.”
Investing in ice
The challenges for the New Mexico hockey community, even five years ago, were two-fold: there was no higher level of hockey that kids could aspire to in the state, and Outpost Ice Arena — one of fewer than a dozen rinks in the state — was showing its age. Hubbard remembers cracked concrete, moldy offices, leaky roofs and a place generally not comfortable for players or fans to get to know and enjoy the game.
Blessed with the financial resources to make things better, Hubbard bought the ice arena and is in the process of investing upwards of $5 million in improvements. That has meant complete refurbishment of the two rinks (new boards, new glass, a new Zamboni, a new kitchen in the rink where you can get a real New Mexico-style green chile cheeseburger, etc.), and the conversion of a convenience store and strip mall adjacent to the arena into a first-class hockey training facility, designed by legendary trainer Jack Blatherwick.
And in September, the Hubbard-owned New Mexico Ice Wolves of the North American Hockey League — the top Tier II junior league in the country — played their first game at the Super Rink in Blaine, Minn. After three months, the wins have not come easily or often for the Ice Wolves, who are on the bottom end of the standings (5-21-0-2) in the NAHL, but the fans have shown up.
New Mexico is averaging 1,208 in its first 16 games, which is the ninth-best average in the 26-team NAHL.
“We have amazing crowds every night and it’s getting bigger and bigger in the community,” said Ice Wolves coach Phil Fox, after the team averaged far beyond the arena’s 800-seat capacity for their first 16 home games. “People are starting to recognize the logo and players are getting out there and reading in schools and things like that, which is helping.”
Roots at the rink
Before one asks what a family of broadcasters would know about owning a hockey rink or running a junior team, it’s important to note that the Hubbards have more than a half-century of experience in both areas. In 1968, Stan’s parents built the ice rink in St. Mary’s Point, Minn., on the river just south of Stillwater, as a gift to the community and still operate it today.
The Hubbard family also owned the St. Paul Vulcans junior hockey team in the United States Hockey League in the 1980s and ‘90s, before they sold and the team moved to Nebraska.
And in a nod to his grandfather, who in 1938 purchased the first television camera sold by RCA, Hubbard has taken steps to make sure the Ice Wolves are among the best-covered teams in the NAHL. Each home game is captured and broadcast on HockeyTV.com by eight cameras located throughout the arena, with slow-motion and replay capabilities and announcers providing commentary.
Three years ago, Hubbard recruited Fox, another Stillwater native, to come south and help run the youth hockey programs in Albuquerque, with the promise of a higher-end position once the junior team was up and running. “Are you sick of shoveling?” was Hubbard’s recruiting pitch to Fox, who had grown up in Minnesota and played college hockey at Northern Michigan, in the snowy Upper Peninsula.
That year, the youth hockey association in Albuquerque had 170 kids participate in Try Hockey Free, which was among the top turnouts in the nation. Today, with the Ice Wolves up and running and creating some hockey buzz in the community, one can see another successful venture from Stan Hubbard and family taking shape.
“The important part of having a junior team in a non-traditional hockey market like this is it brings hockey people to town. All these kids that are playing juniors are out helping youth teams with practices and we have more coaching staff in town,” Hubbard said. “It’s a big circle that builds on itself. The youth team families are involved in the community, they come to the games, they bring their friends, people keep coming and more and more people keep joining hockey.”