Gordon Monson: The hockey world has its eyes on Utah and everyone’s wondering about ... you

Will Salt Lake City support the NHL? You’re about to decide.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fans try to get photos of a scrum as the Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Knights meet in a preseason game in Salt Lake City on Sept. 30, 2021.

In the past week, I’ve been asked to do numerous interviews on local and national radio stations/networks and websites from Toronto, Ontario, to Orlando, Fla., from Vancouver, B.C., to New York, N.Y. And what do you suppose the most frequently asked questions have been in the ones I’ve done?

Mostly, they’ve asked about … you.

Will an NHL team thrive in Salt Lake City? What kind of hockey market is the Salt Lake area? What are you, the fans, like there? Can Salt Lake, can you, support multiple top professional teams?

The only question I struggled to answer was … Which team name do you prefer for the new hockey team? I stumbled around on that one, even though I’d written a column suggesting 50 candidate names. I like a lot of them, but maybe my favorites are the Utah Raptors — that is an actual dinosaur, right? — and the Salt Lake Black Diamonds and the Salt Lake Scorpions. Someone subsequently suggested the Screaming Eagles, as a nod to Utah Beach and the 101st Airborne’s part in the Normandy invasion. Golden Eagles, the preferred name by some of you, was too much like the Golden Knights in Vegas. The Skateful Dead, I figured, was a no go.

Ryan Smith doesn’t have an answer either. The team will simply have “Utah” on its jerseys next season while the new owners figure it out.

My answer on what the fans around here are like was and is … enthusiastic. The care factor is high here, as is your loyalty factor, as has been demonstrated by the support given to the Jazz for the better part of five decades, in spite of the fact that an NBA title has never been won, although most seasons have been winning ones. Even this past year, when the Jazz sent mixed signals to all y’all, one moment looking as though they wanted to win and the next giving every appearance that tanking was the preferred path, the Delta Center was full. We’ll see where that support hovers if the Jazz continue to lose.

And that’s the related answer to the other questions. When the team formerly known as the Coyotes gets here, will you support it? Is this a hockey town?

Well. It will be if said team establishes itself as an outfit that is run well, from top to bottom, coached well, and if the players work their tails for wins and make a decent effort to connect with the community. Winning would push the whole endeavor over the top, establishing a rapport with the fans in Utah for seasons to come.

Will Ryan Smith own and operate the Salt Lake (fill-in-the-blanks) in a manner that connects with you, the people, some of whom might not yet even know you/they are hockey fans? Beats me. His company — Qualtrics — made its name and its mark in conjuring ways to improve customer service, in improving the customer experience, so you could guess he’ll get that right. But the Jazz haven’t exactly flourished, not competitively, since he took over there, so that question is left unanswered. Will he find the right managers, the right coaches, the right players among the personnel already with the Coyotes and will he oversee the collection of greater talent moving forward? Um … He’ll have to.

I once took a survey of so-called experts in various professional sports regarding who on established clubs had the greatest influence on success — owners, general managers or coaches — and while each was said to play an important role in that pursuit, owners was the most common response. An owner who sets a positive tone, who helps create a winning culture, who is willing to hire the best people to fill the other roles, and pay for ample athlete talent, and who isn’t a jackass toward his or her team’s fans. That will be Smith’s task to complete, to satisfy you.

There are enough people, enough corporate sponsorship along the Wasatch Front and in other areas around Utah, with a whole lot more moving here, for multiple pro teams to draw fans in. That goes for the Jazz, for RSL, for the Royals, for the new NHL team and eventually for a Major League Baseball team. The underpinnings are here for that success.

As I mentioned in various interviews, Salt Lake City and the communities around it, are no longer a cluster of dusty, rustic villages, outposts out yonder in the West somewhere, nor can they be defined as a walled-off fortification of single-minded religious zealots seeking to isolate from the rest of the world.

That’s not you, most of you.

Yes, the politics can get more than a little goofy and down-right stupid at times, but the most important part of the communities here, you the people, have grown increasingly diverse, folks who want what most folks want — a safe, clean, peaceful, thriving environment whose teams kick the living hell out of teams from other cities, proving that we, whether we have any actual connection to the local teams other than an emotional one, are superior to those from other cities and states.

All good.

Beyond that, hockey is a fantastic sport, the version played at the NHL level, filled with great athletes with remarkable skill and dogged physicality. I grew up a Philadelphia Flyers fan, just as that team — famously known as the “Broad Street Bullies” — emerged as a real force in the NHL. They went on to win Stanley Cups, and as they did, many young people around Philly got hooked on hockey, not just watching Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent, et al., do their thing, but also a lot of youngsters started playing hockey — on the ice, on the gym floor, on the street. As one of the youngest populations in the country, it’s a good guess that something similar would happen to some of you here in Utah. If you’re an investor looking for a new opportunity, it might be wise to utilize a few resources to invest in and build ice rinks because there will be an increased demand for those surfaces in the years ahead.

There already are hardcore hockey fans here and there will be more of you. Not everyone agrees with that assessment, but that’s my guess. Especially if Ryan Smith does what great owners do — create a team inside a team environment that earns your attention, loyalty, respect. And your entertainment dollars.

“Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained? Is this not why you’re here?” That’s what Maximus Decimus Meridius so famously said in a certain movie. That reminds me of one other possible name I really like: Gladiators. Your Salt Lake or your Utah Gladiators.

What do you think?