Blast From The Past! Check Out El Paso Buzzards Trading Cards
About 10 days ago, Adrian wrote a great story about finding some old UTEP men's basketball trading cards in his dad's collection. Like many El Pasoans, I collected those cards and any other trading cards I could get my hands on. I was recently in my office and happened to find an old El Paso Buzzards trading card set from their second season.
At the time of these cards, the Buzzards had just finished their inaugural season and captured their first Western Professional Hockey League championship under head coach Todd Brost. Although some of the stars from that season did not return in the 1997-98 campaign, the team still won 43 games, the most ever during their five seasons in the WPHL. Led by Jamie Thompson's 71 goals and 122 points in just 58 games, the Buzzards won the Western Conference and defeated Lake Charles in the first round and then New Mexico in a hard fought seven game series to advance to the league finals. Then they swept the Fort Worth Brahmas to win their second straight WPHL title.
KROD-AM broadcast those games with Duke Keith and myself alternating play by play each period. Rich Szturm handled the analyst work when he was not operating the Zamboni. I have so many fond memories of those days because hockey was so popular when the Buzzards first arrived. The Coliseum was always packed to capacity those first few years to watch one of the best teams in town lace up their skates and defend their home rink. The legendary Paul Strelzin was the public address announcer and he gave the Buzzards a terrific advantage since he knew how to get the crowd involved in every game.
As far as the players go, Thompson was the star but so many others contributed in a big way. Jason Welch, Billy Trew, and Chris McKenzie also had terrific statistical seasons and the goaltending duo of Chris Gordon and Jason Carey provided terrific support in net. Rookie Corey Heon arrived and he was fifth on the team with 29 goals scored while Rusty McKie led the team with 274 penalty minutes. (Heon still lives in El Paso and works with former Buzzards teammate Cory Herman with the El Paso Rhinos). Mark Hilton, Trent Eigner, Cori Moffat, and Rob Haddock provided steady defense all season long. Veteran Brent Scott was the only regular older than 29, and he provided a combination of scoring and toughness. The team issued another set for their third season, with many of the same players pictured. Team mascot Swoop was pictured and the Buzzards even had a mini version known as Swoop Junior.
One final thing to note in these cards are the photos of all the local radio and television personalities. Sadly, all three KLAQ jocks pictured in one card: Magic Mike Ramsey, Big Al Jones, and Scott Ronson are all no longer with us. We also lost Courtney Nelson late last year, who was pictured with KISS-FM jocks. KVIA's dynamic duo of Gary Warner and Estella Casas are both no longer with the television station, replaced by the current prime time anchor team of Erik Elken (Rick Cabrera originally took over for Gary) and Stephanie Valle. Also, Lou Romano and Shelton Dotson teamed up for KVIA's sportscasts. Now, the two are still together at CBS4, with Dotson handling main news anchoring duties and Romano the sports director.
Paul Zimmerman, who spent many years as a sports anchor for KTSM-TV compiled video yearbooks from the earlier seasons of Buzzards hockey. Since Zim shot much of his highlights from ice level, some of the language in these videos is definitely not safe for work. However, it is a great look back at one of El Paso's most exciting professional sports teams.