By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
When he was the president and chief executive officer of the ECHL from 1995-2002, Rick Adams did more than his fair share of traveling.
So as one of the owners of the ECHL’s Texas Wildcatters, Adams has made it a point not to attend too many road games.
Friday night’s season opener against the Florida Everblades at Germain Arena, however, was one road game Adams pledged not to miss.
The father of three sons, Adams’ perspective on life and on the role that a sports team plays in a community changed in a big way on Sept. 24, 2005. That’s when Hurricane Rita blew through Beaumont, Texas, and blew away the Wildcatters’ season in the process. Ford Arena needed to be used as a shelter and a staging area well into November, so Adams and his staff had to start thinking ahead to this season.
“First, we lost our closest rival in Mississippi due to Katrina, and then Rita hit us,” said Adams on Wednesday, the night before he hopped on a plane for Fort Myers. “People forget, I think Rita was something like the seventh worst hurricane this country’s had. It was a massive storm that did considerable damage and came right through Beaumont, and it was probably three or four months after the hurricane when I first saw signs that the community wanted us back.
“The petrochemical industry is coming back several times stronger than it was, and with all of the rebuilding there has been an enormous influx of skilled labor. All of the economic signs here in Southeast Texas are stronger than they’ve ever been, and we’ve established ourselves again.”
Once Adams secured enough key corporate sponsors and began to see ticket sales increase, he started to get excited about putting a team back on the ice. The Wildcatters were born in his living room, where he designed the logo and established a phone number.
In June, Adams brought in Malcolm Cameron to take over as head coach and director of hockey operations, then proceeded to watch Cameron recruit players like veteran forward Leon Hayward, who was the MVP of the 2005 Kelly Cup Finals for the Trenton Titans when they beat the Everblades in six games. To see Hayward and the rest of the Wildcatters in action for the first time since April 9, 2005 was too important to Adams.
“You can’t help but be emotional when you’ve invested as much of your life as we do in these teams,” Adams said. “When it’s taken away, potentially forever, and you get it back, there is a lot of emotion associated with it and I’m coming to Florida for that reason. I don’t generally go to the away games, and certainly we’ve got a lot of work to do in Beaumont, but I just wanted to be there to see the Wildcatters on the ice. And no matter what happens over the course of the season, it’s a success story that we’ll carry with us for a long time.”
After Saturday’s game, the second of back-to-back games to start the season, Texas travels to Pensacola for another road game Friday before returning to Ford Arena for the long-awaited home opener. Adams said there are quite a few special things planned for the night of Oct. 28, when the Wildcatters host the Ice Pilots, including pyrotechnics and video tributes honoring the people of the community and those who helped rebuild.
The Mississippi Sea Wolves, no doubt will be paying close attention as they move forward in their attempts to return in 2007-08.