Hockey in Vegas would be a Blessing

Hockey in Vegas would be a Blessing

June 07, 2016 3:01 AM
by

Other than possibly Bill Foley, no one is more anxious for the NHL to officially announce an expansion team is indeed coming to Las Vegas than Brian Blessing.

Blessing, host of a sports-talk radio show weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KSHP (1400 AM), is the unofficial voice of Vegas hockey fans.

He’s been talking pucks since moving out here from Buffalo in 2005.

“People would say to me, ‘Don’t talk about hockey, nobody cares,’” Blessing said.

They’ll care now. With rumors leaking last week that Foley’s franchise request is expected to be officially approved soon by the NHL’s Board of Governors, hockey appears to be on the verge of taking off in the desert.

“The community will support this glowingly, I believe,” Blessing said. “I’ve always been convinced it could work here and that the NHL had the most to gain by coming to Las Vegas.”

When Blessing was growing up in the 1960s in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., there were no skating rinks nearby. He didn’t even follow hockey until he was 14 years old. But after watching just one game, it “instantly” became his favorite sport. He thinks many Nevadans will react similarly once they get to experience their first real professional sports team.

Blessing, now 58, said he even taught himself to skate, and started refereeing in local leagues. He played a couple times a week in what he described as “bar league” hockey.

As a broadcaster, he went on to cover the Buffalo Sabres for a CBS television affiliate, and was the host of pre-game, intermission and post-game shows on the Sabres’ telecasts, along with a show called “Hockey Hotline,” for the Empire Sports Network.

If not for a financial scandal involving the Sabres’ owner, which led to the team filing for bankruptcy, Blessing might have never left Buffalo. He’s just elated that hockey has followed him and is expected to begin play in the new 17,500-seat T-Mobile Arena near the Las Vegas Strip for the 2017-18 season.

“I’m passionate about the sport,” Blessing said “I have beaten the NHL’s drum since the day I moved here. There’s nothing like going to a hockey game. People who never gave hockey a second glance will now, and I think they’ll embrace the sport.”

Blessing became a frequent guest in recent years on radio shows, even in Canada, to discuss the pros and cons of a Vegas hockey franchise. He often had to defend the idea because of perceptions that the market wasn’t big enough and wouldn’t support hockey, players would get in too much trouble in this type of environment and, of course, because of the gambling issue.

“I got pretty good shooting down all their theories,” Blessing said.

It explains why he was chosen by Foley to be on the initial 50-member founding committee years ago to try to pursue an NHL team.

“My biggest contribution to that was promoting the process on my radio show,” Blessing said. “That was a labor of love.”

Blessing is adamant that there are many avid hockey fans in the area and the two million-plus people living in the Las Vegas Valley will fully support the Black Knights (though not yet official, Foley’s preferred name).

“The reality is tourists are going to have a hard time getting a ticket,” Blessing predicted.

He also believes the Black Knights can be competitive from the start. An expansion draft will give them the opportunity to select as many as eight “top four” defensemen from the rosters of current teams.

“The team can be shockingly good (immediately) if that’s the mindset of the organization,” Blessing said. “Personally, I would like to take a broader approach and think big picture, go younger and have a group that grows up together and can be really good for quite a while, and not get sucked into the ‘let’s win now’ mode, then have struggles down the road.”

Blessing, like many fans of this new team, will be watching every player throughout the league next season to try to figure out who might fit best in Las Vegas.

If you want to talk about it, his show undoubtedly will be the place to go.

“From the day this goes in,” Blessing promised, “there will be a huge devotion to talking hockey on the airwaves in Las Vegas on my part.”

Dave Dye is a former sportswriter for the Detroit News and FoxSportsDetroit.com. He has covered six Stanley Cup Finals, five Final Fours, three NBA Finals, three Rose Bowls and one World Series. Twitter: @Dyedave Email: DaveDye@GamingToday.com