Happy Anniversary Non-Traditional Hockey Markets
Posted By: Aaron Sims
It was 22 years ago today that a trade happened that changed the world of hockey, nay sports, as we know it.
The Los Angeles Kings dealt current Nashville Director of Player Development Martin Gelinas to the Edmonton Oilers. Joining Gelinas in the deal was Jimmy Carson, three first-round draft picks and $15 million. The Kings received Marty McSorley, Mike Krushelnyski and some guy named Wayne Gretzky.
Did you realize the trade would have an effect on the Milwaukee Admirals at the time?
Some of you remember that Gretzky and the Oilers were to open the brand new Bradley Sports and Entertainment Center against the Chicago Black Hawks (not Blackhawks).
The game, which would take place October 1st, was announced on June 25. The press release had quotes from Admirals General Manager Phil Wittliff, Joseph E. Tierney (President of the Bradley Center Corporation), Oilers Assistant GM Bruce MacGregor and Chicago GM Bob Pulford.
The press release touted the number of stars that would be on the ice at the Bradley Center on that night. Edmonton, which had one four of the previous five Stanley Cups, featured Gretzky, Mark Messier
, Glenn Anderson
, Jari Kurri
and Grant Fuhr
Tickets were priced at $22, $18, $14, $10 and $6.
Looking through the archives in the office, Admirals Vice President of Business Development Mike (Wojo) Wojciechowski and I found an advertisement that ran in the Milwaukee Sentinel the day before the trade occurred. One of the lines in the ad: “The new Bradley Center will be the finest facility for hockey in North America, and Wayne Gretzky intends to prove it!”
Wojo said he and the rest of the organization heard about the trade while fishing with the team. The Admirals players would work at the Wisconsin State Fair on behalf of the team during the summer (it was a different time when players stayed in town year-round). Everyone heard the news update on the radio that Gretzky had been dealt to L.A. Remember, there were no cell phones back then.
The game had been announced to the public on June 25, 1988. Wojo told me about 14,000 tickets were sold immediately but there was still a ways to go. Sales had stagnated after the initial push at the end of June. When news of the trade came down, the Admirals front office was very concerned that people would not want to see a Gretzky-less Oilers team.
On Aug. 18, Don Burke of the Milwaukee Journal wrote that the number of tickets sold was just shy of 16,000, despite the fact tickets weren’t available to the general public until two days later (Saturday). Then-Admirals G.M. Wittliff told Burke that the tickets were purchased by youth hockey teams and season ticket holders.
Wittliff, in the same article, remarked that the trade didn’t have a negative impact on sales. It actually helped. “If anything, it had a positive effect because all of the publicity given to the trade stimulated sales,” said Wittliff. “The three days immediately after the trade was announced were our busiest three days at any time other than the first three days we put the tickets on sale to our season-ticket holders.” He went on to say that only nine people had canceled their order after the trade was announced.
Admirals President Jon Greenberg and his father purchased tickets to the game. They were among the 17,915 that attended that night. Greenberg believes he sat in section 434 for the game. He said that most of the people he encountered wished they could’ve seen Gretzky, but the big draw was being in attendance at the first-ever event at the state-of-the-art facility.
Chicago beat Edmonton in the game, 6-4. The great writer Dale Hoffman quoted the Blackhawks first-year coach Mike Keenan
in the October 3 Milwaukee Sentinel, “It’s an outstanding facility. It ranks with the best in the National Hockey League. The crowd was very appreciative of a pretty fair hockey game, too. They seem to be very knowledgeable, and the players respect that. The people here have something to be proud of.”
What do you remember from that night? Were you there? Share a comment or two below.
Congratulations to former Green Bay Gamblers head coach Jon Cooper. He was named the new head coach of the AHL Norfolk Admirals today
. Cooper led the USHL Gamblers for two seasons, posting an 84-27-9 record. He also led the Gamblers to two Anderson Cups, awarded to the USHL regular season champions, and one Clark Cup, given to the playoff champions. Last season Cooper led Green Bay to its second consecutive Anderson Cup as well as the Clark Cup Championship, the team’s first since 2000. He guided the team to a 45-10-5 record, the best in Gamblers’ 16-year franchise history. Cooper was also awarded the USHL Coach and General Manager of the Year honors.