Hockey Has Developed a Texas Twang
By Jared Abbott for JackalsHockey.comThursday, December 12, 2013
Dwayne Robertson is no longer the face of ice hockey in Texas.
The silky, southern ranch hand was a colorful character in the popular Might Ducks trilogy during the 1990’s. The Austin, Texas native made his debut in 1994 when D2: The Mighty Ducks was released. The year before the movie’s release, the Minnesota North Stars relocated from the State of Hockey to the Lone Star State and was renamed the Dallas Stars.
Hockey caught on quickly in Texas courtesy of Mike Modano’s best career season and the Stars success throughout their inaugural year. A trip to the second round of the 1994 playoffs was just the launching point for the franchise. Ed Belfour, Brett Hull, Joe Nieuwendyk, and the Hatcher brothers teamed up with Modano in Dallas to form the nucleus for the future of hockey in Texas. Winning the Stanley Cup in the 1998-99 season opened a pipeline for young, aspiring hockey players in Texas to flourish in their newfound favorite sport.
Meet Colin Jacobs. The 6-foot-1 200-pound Coppell, Texas native is a direct product of the NHL stardom in Dallas.
“I wouldn’t be here if they [Dallas Stars] didn’t come down from Minnesota,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs was born the same year that Norman Green moved the North Stars from Bloomington, MN to Dallas, TX. The NHL’s expansion was the catalyst for youth hockey growth in Texas. In 1990-91 there were 868 USA hockey members in Texas. In 2009-10 the membership total increased to 10,909 which was a growth of 1,156.8%.
“It is huge for development now that you have an NHL team to go watch,” said Jacobs. “It is a lot of fun for all the young guys and getting kids interested going to Dallas Stars games.”
The Dallas Stars youth program has developed into one of the strongest youth hockey programs in the country. Elmira Jackals’ head coach Dwight Mullins played an integral role in developing youth hockey in the Dallas area.
“The NHL has been a presence in these cities long enough to where these kids have been able to grow up with the sport and they’re at an age now where they can take advantage of professional opportunities,” said Mullins. “Dallas is a very competitive, competitive market and they’re a lot of people there that drove it to be successful and now we are paying the dividends for allowing athletes to come from there.”
One of the people who drove the success in Dallas was Mullins himself. He spent close to a decade developing the Dallas Stars youth program and contributing to other hockey outlets in the Dallas area. Although he hadn’t coached Jacobs until this season, Mullins was always mindful of the young Texas talent and his development.
“Colin is somebody that I was always aware of,” said Mullins. “He was younger at the time than the program I was coaching in but I had always known about Colin and seen Colin develop.”
Mullins created a competitive atmosphere for hockey in Dallas by developing homegrown talent and also bringing players in from around the country. One of the players Mullins recruited to play for the Dallas Stars youth team was Dane Walters. Walters is a St. Paul, MN native and is currently listed on the Jackals’ 21-day IR.
“He is a young man who moved from Minnesota down to Texas to play in a program that we had developed for kids that were 16-18 years old,” said Mullins. “I’ve known Dane for quite a long time. In fact, it was Dane and his cousin Eric Hartzell, who is a goaltender in the Pittsburgh system, who came down and played a year for me in a program that we had developed down in Dallas and it was a great experience.”
Walters enjoyed his stay in Texas and the experience was one he will remember for the rest of his life. But, he wasn’t always sure the move was the right decision.
“Well originally, I thought it was kind of crazy,” said Walters. “A team from Texas wants me to go play hockey? I knew they had the NHL team down there but I didn’t know they had much else. Once I learned more about the program and more about how hockey down there is blowing up, it was a good experience.”
Despite playing for the same youth organization Walters and Jacobs were never teammates until this year. When Jacobs was 15, the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League drafted him in the fourth round of the WHL Bantam Draft. He spent most of the season playing for the Dallas Stars U-16 Midget AAA team. He recorded 72 points in 50 games with the Stars and then moved to Seattle and played in two regular season contests as well as four playoff games.
“It was really fun,” said Jacobs. “It was a good experience for me. I got to live in Seattle with a family out there and play in one of the best leagues in the world. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here.”
Jacobs was able to see his family a few times during the season. They would travel up to watch him play and also took advantage of the team’s Family Weekend. Even as a young athlete living far from home Jacobs displayed tremendous focus and maturation during his development in the WHL. He was even invited to participate in the 2011 CHL Top Prospects Game.
“I got lucky with the game being played in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre,” said Jacobs. “Just getting a chance to play in that venue was a really cool experience. I think I was the only Texan in that game so that was another cool part about it as well.”
Following the season the Buffalo Sabres drafted the natural center in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Jacobs finished his WHL career with the Prince George Cougars in 2012-13 and joined the Rochester Americans, which is Buffalo’s American Hockey League affiliate. Jacobs actually got the chance to start his pro career in Texas as a member of the Americans.
“That was right after my junior hockey season so I hopped on a plane and met the team down in Oklahoma,” said Jacobs. “We started in Oklahoma and went to Texas where I scored my first goal. That was a really cool experience for me. My family was in the stands for that and overall it was a great experience getting to start my pro career in Texas.”
With the plethora of college club hockey, junior hockey, and minor pro teams in Texas many young talented hockey players will get the chance to follow in Jacobs’ footsteps.