It’s always a steady 55 degrees at the Amarillo Ice Ranch. As north winds scatter leaves outside, the cool, clean consistency of the ice feels like sweet relief.
Skaters of all ages lace up in a comfortable, warm room before gliding across the ice. A young man effortlessly pivots from skating forward to backward, a smile on his face. Parents chat about the current hockey season in Amarillo.
Despite more than 50 years of hockey history, the phrase “hockey season in Amarillo” still feels a bit foreign to some residents. But the Ice Ranch continues to bring the idea home. The downtown facility opened at 301 S. Grant St. in 2021. It features 17,000 square feet of smooth ice, plus locker rooms and spectator seating. Along with the heated room for putting on skates, there’s a snack bar, training room, and party room.
“Our mission is to positively impact as many people as possible through ice sports,” says Austin Sutter, President of the Amarillo Wranglers and co-owner of the Ice Ranch. “That’s not just hockey. It’s figure skating, it’s going to a game. It’s the kid who moved across the world to play hockey for the Wranglers and the family hosting them. It’s a kid who takes a step out on that ice for the first time or the 73-year-old adult league player. It’s a kid celebrating their birthday party. It’s folks coming out on Friday and Saturday nights when we turn on the disco lights.”
But don’t let the Friday-night disco lights fool you. This is a serious facility. “We have an NHL player who trains in our facility in the summer,” says Sutter. “He’s a goaltender who lives on a ranch outside Abernathy.” What makes the Ice Ranch worth the drive? “Amarillo actually has a pretty good climate for ice.”
Sutter and his partners have also created a great climate for youth sports. In what some might consider the unlikeliest of cities, youth hockey and figure skating are exploding. They coach more than
350 kids in youth hockey programs—and more than 100 young figure skaters at the Amarillo Ice Skating School, directed by Svetlana Petrey. “She’s amazing,” Sutter says.
Adults are joining in on the fun. More than 275 grown hockey players fill three different leagues, and an introductory skating class for adults has a waiting list.
Meanwhile, across the street at the Civic Center, Sutter oversees the Amarillo Wranglers. To handle day-to-day operations, the Ice Ranch has just hired Katelyn Anderson as the new General Manager.
The Ice Ranch and the Wranglers’ local ownership means affordability and accessibility. “It helps keep the fees low,” he says. “And it opens a lot of doors. People show up for you.”
PUTTING KIDS (AND GROWN-UPS) ON ICE
Amarillo’s ice sports are hotter than ever. “This year, all our programs have set records,” says Sutter. Thanks to a Kids Inc. partnership, several hundred youth graduated over the summer from an Intro to Ice Sports program. With four-week classes for participants from kindergarten through fifth grade, the program provides ice skates, and participants get to keep a T-shirt and souvenir hockey stick. After learning to skate, kids are introduced to
the basics of figure skating and hockey.
“For kids ages 4 to 8 who want to get started with hockey, we partner with the Dallas Stars for the Learn to Play program,” he says. The beginner classes fill quickly and run throughout the year. “The Dallas Stars offset the cost of all the equipment, and we donate the pro coaching and the ice time.” Their program for budding figure skaters, Learn to Skate, is just as popular.
Parents value Learn to Play because hockey equipment can be expensive. Participants receive a complete set of gear: skates, a hockey stick, safety equipment, a jersey, and more. There’s even an equipment bag. Taking it a step further, the Ice Ranch gives participants the $200 fee back in credit for league registration. Like most youth sports, these leagues range from in-house recreational play to competitive travel teams.
“Say you put your child in Learn to Play. We offer six sessions for $200. They get about $600 in value of equipment alone. They get to keep it all. If they want to play in the Amarillo Hockey Association, we give them that $200 back in credit. In a sense, it’s like trying hockey for free,” Sutter says.
The Ice Ranch doesn’t want expenses to stand in the way of kids learning the sport. “We have local businesses who help out with donations of equipment like jerseys and nets,” he says.
A former professional hockey player himself, Sutter knows the benefits of a team environment. “I think back on my own experience as a youth hockey player growing up in Canada. There are certain things your parents can teach you, there’s certain things the school can teach you, there’s certain things church can teach you. But there are also certain things that sports or art or music can teach you, right?”
Sutter believes that holds true for every age. In fact, the adult leagues at the Ice Ranch are just as robust as the kids’ program. “We have the fastest-growing adult program in the United States. And Learn to Play showed us how to do it. They get to keep the gear and get a discount for joining our leagues.” This year, 52 adults joined the Learn to Play program, and a wait list is already underway for the next session.
For the adults, A, B and C leagues offer different levels of skill and competition, from ice veterans in the A league to beginners in the C league. “We have tons of women joining, too. It’s not a men’s league, it’s an adult league,” he says. “And we hear a lot about how much this positively impacts people. They’ve really built a community.”
NORTH TO SOUTH
Sutter grew up playing youth hockey in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, with his team placing third in the National Championships. He went on to play junior hockey with the Powell River Kings, who named him Rookie of the Year, Leading Scorer, and MVP. He received a scholarship to play for Minnesota State University before joining the Amarillo Gorillas. He was Central Hockey League’s 2008-09 Man of the Year.
That same year, Sutter’s love of hockey led to a passion for coaching. He accepted the role of Assistant Coach for the Gorillas and later the Bulls.
What kept him in Amarillo? “I ended up playing here a long time! Then I met my wife, of course. She’s a local. It’s how the story goes: You fall in love, and you never look back. We built a family here,” he explains.
“Amarillo feels like home. I grew up in the prairies in Alberta. It’s cattle, it’s oil, it’s windy. I love the blue-collar West Texas spirit and the humbleness. Everybody’s so giving and generous and welcoming. You can’t find that anywhere else in the world.”
Sutter recalls his first day with the Gorillas. “I pulled up, and it’s literally a rodeo. Like, there are horses. The team tells me, ‘The bus is right there. We’re going to Lubbock to practice.’ If there was no ice in Amarillo, we’d go to Lubbock, we’d go to [Oklahoma City]. We’d go wherever we could find ice. We called it the Zamboni Rodeo. “That’s when I realized: This is different from Minnesota State or Canada, where there are 15 ice rinks within a two-mile radius.”
THE GREAT ICE SEARCH
For a long time, Amarillo’s youth and adult hockey grew without a full-time ice facility. Thanks to the Civic Center’s sports and event schedule, ice was only available six months out of the year, during the hockey season.
“We want to develop players and make them better. Then we send them on their way to do great, successful things. And you can’t do that without ice time. You can’t do that without a facility,” says Sutter.
Amarillo needed a dedicated, year-round ice facility, but it would be an expensive, risky venture. Sutter and his partners spent years researching and exploring opportunities. Then, as the Bulls junior team was leaving, an empty auction house across the street from the Civic Center offered possibility. Everything finally fell into place.
“If you can skate every day, you can play college hockey, even pro hockey. Why did I get to play hockey at the level I did? Because I skated outside every day of my life,” he says. “The Ice Ranch makes that possible for Amarillo.”
RESURRECTING THE WRANGLERS
Opening an ice facility is one thing. But Sutter and his partners didn’t stop there. They purchased the Kansas City Scouts hockey franchise and moved it to Amarillo, rechristening the North American Hockey League team as the Amarillo Wranglers. (The name honors the city’s Central Hockey League team that played from 1968 to 1971.
Another local team took up the Wrangler mantle in the Southwest Hockey League from 1975 to 1977, winning the league championship in 1976.)
Amarillo’s hockey community embraced the new Wranglers from the beginning. “And we saw huge growth in the second year. Out of the 32 franchises in the league, we were second in attendance. This year, our goal is to be No. 1.”
A junior ice hockey team, the Wranglers feature college-level prospects, mostly between 17 and 20 years old. How competitive is the North American Hockey League? “It’s a powerhouse, for sure. The NAHL is one of the best amateur hockey leagues in the world,” Sutter says.
He and his staff pride themselves on getting commitments and scholarships for their players. “Pierce Patterson, who won Defenseman of the Year, plays at West Point this year. Twin brothers Ben and Jack Ivey are both committed to West Point. Our goalie from last year, Carter Clafton, plays at the Air Force Academy. We’ve got kids going all over to high-end hockey schools and doing
Austin Sutter serves as president of the Wranglers. Harry Mahood, who coached the team to the playoffs last year, has been promoted to President of Hockey Operations. They hired Ryan Anderson as the new head coach.
No stranger to Texas hockey, Anderson guided the Texas Brahmas to a North American Tier III Hockey League championship. This season in Amarillo promises to be an exciting one as the Wranglers continue to play their home games at the Civic Center.
But the Ice Ranch plays a vital role. When the rodeo comes to the Civic Center—like November’s annual WRCA World Championship Ranch Rodeo—the Wranglers don’t need to make road trips to practice. “They get dressed in the locker room, they walk up the ramp, practice at the Ice Ranch, walk right back.”
In the meantime, Sutter continues to invite the non-professional public to give ice skating or ice hockey a try. Even just once. “If we can get everybody to experience it one time a year, that’d be a great thing.”
Austin Sutter makes sure the Wranglers and Ice Ranch are a positive presence in the Panhandle. According to Sutter, “I look at this thing as a ministry more than a business.” At special games, fans donate by throwing items on the ice. They bring teddy bears for Toys for Tots or socks and underwear for a homeless shelter. The team also holds silent auctions for the Wounded Warrier Project.
The Wranglers give their time to schools. “We partner with AISD and CISD,” says Sutter. “We travel out to Plainview, to Guymon. We take over the P.E. class and call it Hockey for Health.” Players discuss staying healthy with the students. “Then we teach them drills and play a hockey game.” Last year they reached 4,200 students.
As for the Ice Ranch, school districts have a limited budget per student for field trips. Sutter keeps the price point down for AISD, CISD, Bushland, and other local districts. Some schools reward good behavior with trips to the
facility. The Ice Ranch also works with churches and kid-focused nonprofits, including the Maverick Club. “We’d love it if every kid in Amarillo had the chance to come out and enjoy the rink,” he says.
Sutter understands how much the people in this area have given to Amarillo’s ice sports. “It’s a community. That’s why this all works. That’s why we go out in the community and we serve people and we give back.”