Let me say this from the outset: I love hockey.
I fell in love with it watching a lousy team that barely lasted two years. That would be the Kansas City Scouts. For those of you born after the Pleistocene era, the Scouts were one of the first National Hockey League expansion teams.
The Scouts were an unmitigated flop for several significant reasons: lousy management, lousy management, lousy management. Did I mention lousy management?
It's not like I didn't know. My boyfriend at the time was the team's director of public relations. He'd previously been the marketing director for what had been a very successful minor league hockey team: the Phoenix Roadrunners.
Back then, between Singapore Slings at Trader Vic's, we'd marvel at the incompetence of the ownership. The most pressing matter during the first season was what kind of canopy to install at the door leading to the arena's private club.
They didn't know a slapshot from buckshot.
In 1976 the team moved to Denver. It was named the Colorado Rockies. This time around the front office was staffed with some pretty savvy hockey folks like Munson Campbell and Ray Miron. There were some gung-ho sales and marketing folks, including Jan Buchholz.
Yeah, that would be me.
I sold corporate season ticket packages. What a trip. Sometimes I'd take players with me to meet with corporate execs. You know ... to make it a little more personal. A little more hands on. I'm not sure how successful that was given that most of the players who came along for the ride spoke only French. C'est la vie!
Despite my vow to spread the joy of hockey throughout the modern world, despite my devotion to the Rockies and its players (including my new boyfriend at the time), despite my enthusiasm for body checks and hooking, I could not save hockey in Denver. The Rockies eventually failed and the NHL moved the club to New Jersey.
Now here's the deal, folks. Hockey is a hard sell in the USofA. Kids in America don't grow up with a pair of skates by the door and an ice rink down the street, especially not in the Sun Belt.
There simply isn't a hockey tradition in this country. That's not to say hockey isn't a welcome diversion or that professional hockey can't succeed here. But it takes a hell of a lot more effort to run a successful NHL team than an NBA or NFL team.
Which now brings me around to the headline of this blog: The Not So Great Gretzky. Wayne, the great player, thought he could skate into town and run the Phoenix Coyotes at stick length. That's a not-so-great idea. Because any chance for the Coyotes to succeed demanded that a lot of time and effort be invested in selling the game of hockey to the masses. It would require a super-human power play that included an unwavering commitment to the community and an all out effort to engage fans.
The Coyotes organization never made that their mission.
Gretzky and his family really live in L.A. He and his glamorous wife have no passion for Phoenix or any sense of obligation to its fans. Could Janet even pick out Phoenix on a map?
Meanwhile, owner Jerry Moyes is a millionaire trucking company founder who apparently has no clue how to handle a business that doesn't run on diesel.
It's a wonder, and a shame, that this club has lasted this long.
Gretzky had plenty of time to build a winner on and off the rink, but he sat on the bench when it came to the really hard work of reaching out to the fans. I don't care how many goals he scored as a player, what I'll remember is his dismal performance with the Coyotes.
But don't worry about the great one. He'll be skating into the western horizon with only his paystubs to remind him of time poorly spent.