Hey Barracuda fans! Nick Nollenberger here. It’s another week, which means it’s time for another blog.
Yesterday was the 29th anniversary of one of the greatest trades in American sports history, Wayne Gretzky going from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. A move that had a massive impact on my life, and so many other kids growing up in California.
Let me shift gears quickly before tying it back to Gretzky and my youth. Last Sunday, I helped fit kids ages 4-to-8 in hockey equipment through an NHL initiative called Learn to Play. For a fee of only $150, kids received all brand new equipment, six on-ice sessions with Sharks alumni, and a ticket to a Sharks game. As I watched well over 100 families file through each fitting station, I couldn’t help but think of the amazing platform that I have and the impact that hockey has had on my life. Here we are in the middle of summer, in California, and we’ve got families of different economic backgrounds and ethnicities introducing their children to a game that they themselves know little about. That’s the Gretzky effect.
That effect played a huge role in my life as well. Gretzky was traded to LA in 1988; I was born two years later. The Sharks were established a year after I was born in 1991. I began roller-blading at two-years-old, and ice-skating by four. My mom and Dad would shuttle my older brother and sister, along with my twin and I over Highway 17 from Santa Cruz to San Jose for practice or games nearly seven days a week (still don’t know how they did it). Fast forward 22 years and I’m broadcasting hockey for a living. If Gretzky doesn’t move to California, I don’t think we would have become a hockey family, and I wouldn’t have become a hockey broadcaster. At the time of the blockbuster trade, the Kings had some of the worst attendance in the league. I’d be hard-pressed to think the NHL would have been inclined to add another California franchise to a state that was having trouble supporting the one it already had, and to a market that had a team 15 years earlier (California Golden Seals).
Just this year, the Sharks selected a pair of California born players in the NHL draft, Sasha Chmelevski, and Jacob McGrew, a pipe dream before 1990.
Even the expansion of the AHL’s Pacific Division in 2015 could be linked back to the ’88 trade.
One thing is for sure, the game will continue to grow and I’m looking forward to being a very small part of that.
Well, that’s it from me. Enjoy your weekend, and we’ll talk to you all next week.
Fun fact: Barracuda Head Coach Roy Sommer was the first California born and raised hockey player to play in the NHL. He also coached my brothers and me at several hockey camps when we were kids. Small world, aye!