Opinion: I’m calling a penalty on The Tribune for neglecting hockey

People said that the market was too small for an NBA team, but that turned out not to be true. Some people are saying the same thing now about Utah and the NHL.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Grizzlies host the Rapid City Rush, ECHL hockey at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024.

A recent op-ed published in The Salt Lake Tribune, which concluded that “Utah shouldn’t waste time or money on an NHL team,” ignores one relevant fact: Public funding played an important role in the development of the current Delta Center back in 1991 with $24 million of the $90 million cost paid through a public bond. It happened again in the 2016 renovation. The same logic that said it would be a benefit to Utahns back then applies equally today.

The “hockey rink bill” draws money from Salt Lake City sales taxes, which is appropriate because it’s hard to argue that Moab, for example, will benefit economically. With the influx of people and spending estimated to be $1 million per home game, it’s clear that Salt Lake City has benefited from the Delta Center and the Jazz.

On the other hand, the “baseball stadium bill” draws money from state funds.

I’m a long-term subscriber to the Tribune and it appears to me that nobody at the Tribune likes hockey. News flash for Tribune readers — the Utah High School Hockey playoffs just ended. The winners were Park City and Salt Lake Stars, where I’m an assistant coach. Maybe the Tribune staff prefer basketball, but why tear down the NHL and the state of the game of hockey in Utah?

I read about USA Hockey player registration numbers being used to indict the state of the game in Utah in the March 17 op-ed. The reality is that both Colorado and Idaho have more hockey ice surfaces per capita than Utah. Colorado in particular has three times the number of hockey ice surfaces as compared to Utah, and the participation shows it. Much of the growth of hockey in Colorado happened after the NHL came there.

Access to ice time in Utah when players are not in school or work is maxed out. The Salt Lake Stars is one team looking for more ice time. Tamara Terrill, Assistant Hockey Manager at the Olympic Oval, tells me that games start as late as 10:45 p.m. on weeknights, and the size of the waiting list to get in the league is “unreal.” There are many players that want to get involved but nowhere to play.

Utah hockey benefited greatly from ice rinks built for the Olympics, but they are now fully occupied when players can reasonably access them, and it’s limiting growth in the sport.

My experience with hockey is that I’m a Utah native and I used to be an NBA and Utah Jazz fan in the 1990s and early 2000s. Then I had two family members that started playing ice hockey, so I started watching and playing hockey. When I first paid attention to the NHL about eight years ago, it seemed confusing and chaotic. But after a period of time, I became mesmerized by the game — the continuous action with substitutions on the fly, the systems that are used, amazing speed and skill and, yes, the physicality.

Regarding basketball, I quote coach Steve Kerr on the NBA game between the Warriors and Nuggets in December, “We are enabling players to B.S. their way to the foul line. If I were a fan, I wouldn’t have wanted to watch the second half of that game. It was disgusting. It was just baiting refs into calls...” Steve is on to something, but it’s not just the one game — it’s the sport.

Referees are not as involved in hockey, and it makes for great fan experience once you get into the game. After watching many televised NHL games, watching basketball gives me an urge to change the channel when a foul is called.

I agree with fans who say that fighting in the NHL being lightly penalized is related to less referee involvement. Players and teams are allowed to work out their differences to some degree. Fighting is not my favorite part of the game, but I’d rather watch one scrap every few games than a parade to a penalty shot line through every game. It doesn’t happen in hockey and never will. Embellishment, or faking a foul, is still a penalty in the NHL.

I’m going to call a foul on the Tribune for neglecting hockey. When Sam Battistone brought the Jazz to Utah in 1979, people said that the market was too small, but that turned out not to be true. Some people are saying the same thing now about Utah and the NHL.

Ryan Smith sees a vision for the future with the NHL in Utah. Fortunately, not everyone has taken the same position as was taken in the March 17 op-ed. The NHL is even better live than televised, and when it comes to Utah, people are going to like it.

(Photo courtesy of Gill Bearnson) Gill Bearnson

Gill Bearnson is a part time ice hockey fan, volunteer Utah high school hockey assistant coach, and recreation league hockey player. He works full-time as a medical device development engineer.

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