The Central Texas Stampede were an original WPHL team and started play in that inaugural season of 1996-97 at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton, Texas. The Stampede made a splash with the first head coach, as they hired former New York Islander cup winner Bob Bourne. Interestingly enough it wasn’t Bourne’s first foray in Texas hockey. About two decades earlier Bourne spent time in Fort Worth as a player for the Fort Worth Texans when they were an Islanders farm team.
Under Bourne, the Stampede were solid and went 35-27-2 and made the playoff final. While making the playoff final sounds impressive, for the WPHL’s first season it was a six-team league where four teams made the playoffs. So the Stampede beat the New Mexico Scorpions in the first round before losing to the El Paso Buzzards in the final in five games.
Oddly enough, the Stampede had a revolving door of coaches, with four different coaches in five seasons. However, that didn’t seem to change the on-ice success! The team had 40 wins in their second season and an impressive 50 wins in 70 games during their fourth season. As far as the playoffs went, the WPHL expanded quickly to 18 teams and making the finals wasn’t quite as easy, so the Stampede never made it that far again.
Like many WPHL teams, the Stampede weren’t able to keep up financially. They attracted about 2,000 fans per game which isn’t terrible for a team at that level but it wasn’t enough to sustain the team. Belton was also a very small city as far as pro sports go, as even in 2020 it only had about 20,000 residents. Compare that to Fort Worth at around a million and Abilene of 120,000 and there likely wasn’t much corporate support for the team. The Stampede would fold in January 2001, halfway through their fifth season. The WPHL wasn’t far behind as it merged with the CHL rather than fold itself.