Wednesday, June 16, 1999 | 10:31 a.m.
The sights and sounds were familiar. Even some of the names rang a bell.
Pucks were flying, crashing off the dasher boards, the goalposts and the Plexiglas. Players were moving quickly. Goalies were making kick saves. The occasional whistle broke the tempo and the crack of the puck hitting the stick blade continued to resonate through the building.
But instead of ice being sprayed, the screech of rubber wheels could be heard. Where it wasn't like a meat locker inside, the building was a comfortable 75 degrees.
Having taken a year off to dust itself off and spruce itself up, professional roller hockey is back and is taking another slapshot at scoring a goal in the Las Vegas market.
The Las Vegas Coyotes, who are undefeated through their first four games, make their home debut at 7:30 p.m. Thursday against the San Jose Rhinos at the Santa Fe Ice Arena, which will have a plastic "Sport Court" placed over its ice surface.
The Coyotes are Roller Hockey International's second venture in this city. In 1994, the Flash played one season at the Thomas & Mack Center before closing shop.
Last year, the entire league took a hiatus to restructure itself. New management was brought in. There has been an influx of fresh capital. The number of teams was reduced from 18 in 1996 to eight for this season.
There's still no national television contract to help boost revenue. The hope is the teams, which operate under a single entity structure run by the league, will be forced to act fiscally responsible and share in the wealth or the debt, however it turns out.
"It's a great sport and it's extremely structured," said Chris McSorley, the Coyotes' general manager and coach. "It needed restructuring at the executive level. They needed more business guys."
But can it work the second time around?
From Las Vegas' perspective, the goals don't appear to be out of reach. The Santa Fe will seat approximately 1,700 for roller hockey. Team officials figure if they can average 1,200 over the 13-game home schedule, they can stay out of the red. For $8, the approximate cost of a movie these days, you can buy a Coyotes ticket. The most expensive seat is $12.
Given the growth of the community over the last five years, especially in the Northwest and in Summerlin, the Coyotes may be able to build a nucleus within five miles of the Santa Fe without relying on all of Las Vegas and Henderson to keep the franchise afloat.
But McSorley's not thinking that way. The former Thunder coach wants the entire valley to check it out.
"All the fans have to do is give it one shot," he said, "and I promise they'll have a great time.
"We have tremendous ownership that is well-heeled enough to make it go. We've got outstanding talent. In fact, I'll go on record and say this is the greatest roller hockey team ever assembled. They have great work ethic and great team chemistry that is second to none."
As for playing at the Santa Fe, McSorley saw the small building as a plus.
"I don't know the numbers, but I'm certain the overhead is less at the Santa Fe than at the Thomas & Mack," he said. "I think the Santa Fe will create an urgency for tickets. It's the catering hall that's a little too small for the party."
The players, who stand to make as much as $8,000 for a couple of months' work (the season runs through mid-August), all have varying degrees of professional ice hockey experience. Jamie Cooke had a taste of the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers and Jacob Fisinec could find himself in the Washington Capitals' training camp this September.
A couple of former Thunder goalies -- Konstantin Simchuk and Brad Guzda -- are handling the netminding chores for McSorley. McSorley said former Thunder enforcer Rhett Trombley may be joining the Coyotes shortly.
"Because the talent pool is deeper with less teams, the quality of play is so much better," McSorley said. "It's a much better game this time around."
He should know. McSorley won the first two RHI titles, with the Anaheim Bullfrogs in 1993 and with the Buffalo Stampede in 1994. He and assistant Grant Sonier have the Coyotes off to a fast start at 4-0. McSorley is so confident that the RHI brass has its act together that he's concentrating on what's happening on the court.
"I'm excited about the direction the league is going," he said. "I think taking a year off was the right thing to do. I have no doubt this can be successful."
Even in Las Vegas?
"Like I said, if the fans come out and give it a chance, they won't be disappointed," he said.