Sunday, May 10, 2009

Introducing The Western Hockey Exchange

Welcome to the humble beginnings of Western Hockey Exchange.

Since moving to Phoenix, I have been thinking about starting a blog that focuses on hockey in the Western US and Canada. Having lived all over the US, I’ve often found that hockey west of the Mississippi is underreported and often unappreciated by the North American Hockey establishment. And if you follow an Eastern team, getting good information from western games is just about impossible. I hope to fill a void by following issues and stories that might escape the glare of the eastern hockey media.

My love affair with hockey dates to the late 1950s, mostly as a fan but also from 4 years as a minor league team manager. I can’t remember the first time I watched a hockey game, but I have a crystal clear memory of November 1, 1959. I was listening to my beloved New York Rangers and Montreal Canadians play that night when an Andy Bathgate shot ripped open the face of goaltender Jacques Plante. While Plante was off for repairs, legendary Ranger announcer Jim Gordon announced that Plante would return wearing a mask. What a moment! I called my Dad to my room and he sat on the end of my bed as we listened to hockey history. I didn’t know what it all meant at the time but I certainly do now.

In the 1960s I followed the Rangers devoutly and when they weren’t playing, I would listen to minor league hockey on radio. Great clear channel stations like WBAL in Baltimore covered the American League Clippers. Bob Chase on WOWO described the International League Ft. Wayne Komets. And the Long Island Ducks, perhaps the most colorful team in minor professional hockey, played 10 miles from my home. Their games were broadcast by Al Baron, the electrical store proprietor who went on to become the team owner. He was a wonderful man who once bought me lunch when my school newspaper sent me off to write about the Ducks.

In the early 1970s I went off to Syracuse University and I began to follow the Syracuse Blazers, first as a fan and later as a front office jack of all trades. I had the opportunity to learn the business firsthand with one of the truly dominating minor league teams. From Syracuse I went on to Roanoke, VA and San Diego, CA where I served as the general manager of minor league teams. And along the way, I’ve also been a sportswriter with the Syracuse Post Standard and a sportscaster with WSLS-TV in Roanoke, VA.

Minor league hockey was struggling mightily with the recession of the mid-1970s. At that time, I had the good fortune to get in the restaurant business, where I have built my career as a marketing executive at some of America’s largest chains. Throughout the years, I maintained my love affair with hockey. At various times, I’ve held season tickets for 5 NHL teams and still have my Rangers tickets. My wife and I long planned our move to Phoenix, building a home 15 minutes away from the new state of the art arena.

My original intent was to start blogging this September. That was before all hell broke loose in Phoenix.

When I heard the news about the Coyotes leaving town, it brought me back to a day almost 52 years ago. When my grandfather came home from work that day, he sat in his chair and cried. I wasn’t really old enough to understand but my grandmother took me aside and told me he was crying because the Dodgers were leaving Brooklyn. It took me years to understand what that moment meant to him. 52 years to be exact.

Now seems like the right time for me to raise my voice. I appreciate the “great call” comments on local sports radio and acknowledgements my posts receive. For those of us who have made significant life decisions around hockey, this is an important and dramatic time. Anyone who has the passion of a hockey fan knows and understands how much this means to so many people.

So here we go. I’d love to hear your comments, both in general and about specific stories, and I look forward to making the Western Hockey Exchange a good read whenever my time allows.

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