By Bob Kowalski
The area’s deep hockey talent pool has produced a successful semipro team that plays its home games in Mansfield, with two games this weekend.
The Fort Worth Barracudas take to the ice against the Reno Ice Raiders at Mansfield’s Children’s Health StarCenter at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 6, and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 7. The Barracudas, members of the six-team Mountain West Hockey League, are riding a four-game win streak. Tickets cost $10 and are available at the team’s website, fortworthbarracudas.com, or at the arena.
The team has come a long way in a short time, said founder and co-owner Robin Mullen, who turned a longtime dream of owning a team into reality with his wife, Kristin.
“I’ve played hockey my whole life, and the idea of owning a team – building it from the ground up – stuck with me,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but it adds a lot to your family.”
Because of Mullen’s connections in the hockey community, an owner in the hockey league approached him out of the blue about forming a team and joining the league in 2018.
“We started from the ground up. It was 2 ½ months before the season, and we had no players, no jerseys, no fans,” Mullen said.
He put out the word on Facebook and drew a roster of quality players to a camp that summer, assembling a team that scrimmaged the Dallas Titans a few times before moving to Mansfield.
“When we got there, we sold out our first game and it took off in that area,” he said. “It took off faster than I expected.”
The nonprofit is staffed by volunteers, including those working game days. The team’s roster is made up of Texans, other than one out-of-state player.
“Believe it or not, there is a ton of talent in DFW. The colleges have produced really good players,” said Mullen, who also serves as the team’s general manager.
He credits coach Megan Garza for the team’s impressive start. Garza is in her first year at the helm after serving as an assistant to original coach Hagen Massie. She has plenty of experience beyond that, coaching four youth teams – including the Dallas Stars Elite Girls U-14 team -- in addition to the Barracudas after a college career playing hockey at Michigan State University.
“She knows hockey, inside and out,” said Mullen. “The players know she’s a good person to follow.”
Garza, a schoolteacher, said that coaching the Barracudas differs from her other teams in that the players already have developed the skills needed to play at a high level.
“It’s a lot of managing personalities and playing styles,” said Garza, who started out as a figure skater before switching to hockey in her early teens. “They’re very skilled hockey players, so I’m just managing personnel. It’s finding the right fit and creating a system that works for their skills.”
The team’s cohesiveness also leads to success, said Mullen, who pointed out that the players regularly golf and eat meals together, bonding away from the arena.
The Barracudas are a Senior A team, which could be classified as between college-level and affiliated minor-league hockey, Mullen said. Many of the league’s players competed in college or played competitive travel hockey while growing up.
The six-team Mountain West Hockey League plays a 12- to 14-game schedule, with teams coordinating convenient dates and travel times, ending the season with a playoff tournament. The Barracudas earlier this season traveled to Reno for a pair of games before playing host to Breckenridge for two games.
Mansfield, Texas, is a booming city, nestled between Fort Worth and Dallas, but with a personality all its own. The city’s 76,247 citizens enjoy an award-winning school district, vibrant economy, historic downtown, prize-winning park system and community focus spread across 37 square miles. The Mansfield Record is dedicated to reporting city and school news, community happenings, police and fire news, business, food and restaurants, parks and recreation, library, historical archives and special events. The city’s only online newspaper launched in September 2020 and will offer introductory advertising rates for the first three months at three different rates.