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Warriors owner Choi featured in USA Hockey Magazine

August 23, 2023
by Neal Boudette

Mary Anne Choi came up with a wild idea four years ago. An anesthesiologist from Dallas, Choi had seen her son, Eric Huss, fight, sweat, and fret his way up through three seasons of junior hockey. The end result? She saw her son come out of it with the ultimate prize—a spot on an NCAA Division 1 hockey roster.

But now that Eric was moving on to the United States Military Academy, Choi began wondering if there was a way she could help other young players. Then it came to her: she could start a new franchise in the North American Hockey League.

Her husband and friends had a similar response: “Are you nuts?” “I was just a hockey mom,” Choi laughed. “I had no experience in anything like this. But the more they questioned it, the more driven I was to prove I could do it.”

This crazy notion has paid off, though. Last season, in just its third year of existence, Choi’s franchise, the Oklahoma Warriors, battled its way to the 2023 Robertson Cup and the NAHL title, defeating the Austin Bruins, 4-3, in a nail-biter of a final.

While women’s and girl’s hockey is growing rapidly, hockey is still a male-dominated sport. In ownership circles, women are rare at any level. Three NHL franchises—the Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, and Colorado Avalanche—are owned by husband-and-wife tandems. All 16 franchises of the USHL, the top junior league in the United States, are owned by men or corporations. It’s the same in the NAHL, which is one level down, but still produces large numbers of D1 and D3 college players.

Choi is an unlikely hockey boss. Her parents came from Korea and settled in New Jersey, where Choi was born and grew up playing tennis. “I knew nothing of hockey,” she admitted.

Choi went to college and then medical school, where she met her husband, Michael Huss, also an anesthesiologist. They had a daughter, moved to Dallas and had a son. When their son, Eric, was 5, Choi and her husband got him on the ice at a local rink and the boy was hooked. He excelled through years of elite travel hockey, but he wasn’t drafted by any junior teams when he turned 18. He tried out for a few NAHL teams—essentially as a walk-on—and fortunately, in his final shot, he was one of the last players taken by the NAHL’s Odessa Jackalopes.

Then came the battle to get playing time and get noticed, all while doing the academic work needed for college. In his second season in Odessa, Eric was traded to the Lone Star Brahmas.

“Junior hockey is a grind,” Choi said. “It’s 60 games. It’s a lot of travel. It is not easy on these kids. Most are away from home and need people to help them and care about them.”

While Eric was in his final season in the NAHL, his mother approached the league about starting a new team. It’s a big commitment, typically requiring an initial investment of several hundred thousand dollars, plus each season’s operating costs on top of that. Choi said she and her husband have been fortunate and successful enough to have the finances to do it.

With the league’s approval, her franchise, the Wichita Falls Warriors was born. Next, she had to find a coach. But how many hockey coaches are eager to work for a hockey mom? After many calls and inquiries, Choi connected with Garrett Roth, an assistant with the NAHL’s Bismarck Bobcats who had played at Bemidji State. In a long phone call, Choi found he had similar views—about coaching the players on and off the ice, caring for them as people.

“It was a leap of faith to move, but Mary Anne had a lot of passion,” Roth said. “We were on the same page about making sure the players develop and have a first-class experience.” When play started in 2020-21, Choi hired a tutor to keep the players on track with school work and paid for ACT classes. When players were injured, Choi used her medical contacts to connect them to specialists and surgeons in Dallas. They won 30 games and won a playoff series before bowing out in the second round.

Click here for the rest of the story

 
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