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Slap Shot 

The Missouri River Otters take aim at fans of St. Louis' major-league teams

In a big sports town such as St. Louis, what's the point of minor-league teams? "Why would I want to go see the River City Rascals or the Renegades or whoever," you might ask yourself, "when I can see the Cardinals and Rams?"

The answer is simple: Whereas every schmuck on the block is a booster of the Big Three, you can distinguish yourself by joining a smaller, more elite club that isn't as common as toasted ravioli. (That's not to mention the cheaper tickets, easier parking, cozy little sports fields, accessible players and the chance to say you were there when, say, a Kurt Warner was gutting it out in the minors.)

That's where the Missouri River Otters come in. The United Hockey League affiliate, now in its third season at St. Charles' Family Arena, offers up a good time. Between periods of skating and smackage, the Otters have been known to present the Orthocare Human Slingshot, in which a lucky fan is hurled into a set of giant Styrofoam teeth. There's also the ever-popular hotdog gun.

This Friday, there's an extra reason to check out the Otters. Mention Habitat for Humanity at the ticket gate, and $4 of the special $5-for-any-seat admission rate goes to the St. Charles chapter of the charitable group, which builds affordable housing for the less fortunate.

The new buzz on the Otters is their recent purchase by a St. Charles-based ownership group and their new affiliation with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League. The Americans are, in turn, an affiliate of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres, so today's Otter may be tomorrow's Sabre.

Or, today's Otter might become tomorrow's Quad City Mallard -- or Elmira (N.Y.) Jackal -- or Port Huron (Mich.) Border Cat -- or Muskegon (Mich.) Fury. Those UHL team names are too much.

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