The public's appetite for the Bulls was apparent at the annual Pueblo Chile Festival on Sept. 20-22, when the team's outreach table was swamped by fans. “I met so many people who were so excited, so stoked for our first home game," said Bulls forward and former Regis Jesuit (Aurora, Colorado) captain Kale Lone. "We had people non-stop coming up to our booth.” Photo courtesy of the Pueblo Bulls
The Pueblo Bulls have just begun to play, but they are already feeling at home entering their inaugural season in the Western States Hockey League this weekend.
The expansion franchise, which calls the 850-seat Pueblo Ice Arena home, opened Tier 2 Junior A play at the Dallas Snipers on Sept. 27-29. The home-opening series against the Wichita Jr. Thunder on Oct. 11-12 is expected to be a sellout thanks to a community that appears hungry for hockey.
The players got a taste of that fervor during the annual Pueblo Chile Festival on Sept. 20-22, when their outreach table was swamped by fans, especially the area’s youth players.
“I was super shocked with the amount of people who support our team,” said former Regis Jesuit (Aurora, Colorado) captain and forward Kale Lone. “I met so many people who were so excited, so stoked for our first home game. We had people non-stop coming up to our booth.”
"I don’t think a single team in the league will out work us."
—Bulls forward Jack Rousseau
on what fans and opponents can
expect from the team this season
That interest and the 250 season-ticket holders promises to make the cozy, old-school arena (built 1975) with its low, curved ceiling and wooden theatre seats a daunting venue for visiting teams.
The Bulls will compete in the Mountain division of the WSHL, which features 23 teams in the western U.S. and Canada under the auspices of the American Athletic Union.
The division includes Dallas, the two-time defending champ El Paso Rhinos, Oklahoma City Blazers, Northern Colorado Eagles, Steamboat Springs Wranglers and Wichita.
Feeling at home is easy for forward Dixson Root, who played for the Pueblo County Hornets. He left his hometown to play juniors before an injury cut that season short.
He is anxious to compete on the same ice where he learned the game and led the co-op high school team to one of its best seasons in 2017-18 (15-6).
“This is really special,” he said. “Here’s a huge opportunity right in front our faces, staring at us. The support from the franchise and fans has been huge.”
Root, 19, is emerging as one of the team’s leaders, as is 20-year-old forward Jack Rousseau of Ann Arbor, Michigan, who is entering his fourth junior season. Both are determined to set up a hard-work culture on and off the ice that pays off in the WSHL and beyond.
“I want to guide these young kids,” Rousseau said. “When I was 15, 16 and first coming into juniors, everyone told me I had so much time. I want to get them on the straight and the narrow, because if I had put in my full effort at all moments of my career, I would already be somewhere.”
Other players to watch for include Czech Republic-born forwards Milan Breczko, one of the final cuts at several U.S. Hockey League camps, and Ondrej Blaha, who played in the professional Czech 2 league last season. He hopes to learn North American-style hockey to enhance his pro options.
Defenseman Kaleb Ross, a Shattuck-St. Mary’s School (Minnesota) graduate, and Lone hope to use the Bulls as a springboard to the NAHL and eventually NCAA hockey.
“I want to start my education as soon as possible,” Ross said. “Shattuck kind opened my eyes to the importance of school. I don’t want to waste time getting ready for life.”
Lone said he thinks this is just another stepping stone in his career.
“I want to play Division I hockey," he added. "I know playing in this league it is going to take a lot of effort. I just have to work my hardest.”
The Bulls would be happy to see the players move on to better opportunities. The WSHL, which gets relatively few college commitments, stresses preparing players for life after hockey.
“So many of them are just one step away from the NAHL and that is why they are here,” Wilhite said. “If they come up to me a month from now to leave for the NAHL, I’ll shake their hand and tell them to keep working. We are trying to get them ready for the next step and that’s not just about hockey. They need to show up for work and give 100 percent in order to succeed. They have to start realizing that now.”