This seems to be a topic right now, and I have a confession to make: I am probably only a hockey fan because of Gary Bettman. I don’t like saying, because I dislike many of his policies and changes, but his big push on ‘non-traditional’ markets was definitely a part of why I’m here now.
When I was a kid, I wanted something different, sports-wise. I grew up watching the Atlanta Braves with my parents, mostly because they were always on TV, a rarity for a single franchise back then. But I wanted to be different, and hockey was on TV a lot thanks to ESPN2 getting added to our cable service. I remember a young Buccigross, and ‘Fire on Ice’…Jim Schoenfeld, Gary Thorne, Bill Clement. I went and saw Hampton Roads Admirals games with my dad (ECHL team back then, with players I saw in Roller Hockey International in the offseason). I even went to an NHL exhibition at Norfolk Scope, between the Washington Capitals…and the Buffalo Sabres. Here’s the game story from one of the newspapers. I remember being disappointed that Mogilny didn’t play that game, but I saw LaFontaine, Hasek, Byron Dafoe, and Matthew Barnaby scored, even. It was great.
But what REALLY cemented me as a hockey fan, was expansion MADNESS. The Hampton Roads area tried for several years after that to get in the league, but the cities that made up the area never could cooperate well enough. But that didn’t stop me from obsessing over my hometown getting a real pro sports franchise. So I guess, thanks Gary, for keeping my interest in hockey energized long enough for it to become a lifelong passion.