No one would ever call Kansas City a hockey town. Oh, there’s plenty of ice, look around, but hardly any of it is indoors. Let’s just say this isn’t the best place for aspiring Zamboni drivers.
The only NHL franchise in our history, your Kansas City Scouts, lasted all of two losing seasons in the 1970s. A series of minor-league teams followed, culminating in the present-day, double-A Missouri Mavericks, who arrived at the Independence Events Center in 2009, and now may have that which eluded hockey teams here for decades: a future.
Hockey in KC has an unexpected new champion with a familiar name: Lamar Hunt,Jr., the son of the late icon. A longtime local, Hunt had never even seen the Mavericks until earlier this season. But he liked it so much, he bought the company. Unveiled as the team’s new owner this month, he pledged “to really grow the sport of hockey”…and I mean in the greater Kansas City area. We’ve got a vision for that.”<
The Mavericks consistently rank at the top of their league in attendance, averaging more than 5,000 fans per game. But beyond that, the base thins out. Down in the River Market, a joint called The Blue Line brands itself as “KC’s Only Hockey Bar,” a sign of either pride or resignation. This could be a tough sell to a generation of Kansas Citians raised to think ice is something to be avoided.
It certainly never figured into my evolution as a sports fan. Sure, as a kid, I vaguely remember that miracle moment when the USA triumphed over some team called CCCP. But mostly, “hockey” meant the hummmm and plink-plink-plink of my neighbor’s air- hockey table. It was when I started to make friends from distant lands like Minnesota and Michigan, that I finally learned the ice can be a lifelong passion.
If you’ve never seen hockey live, it can be hard to appreciate the speed and the synergy. For better and worse, there’s no other sport quite like it. Hockey has the grace of soccer, only on ice and with fewer fake injuries. It blends the team spirit and common-man mythos that we love about baseball with the ferocity of football that we apparently need.
Hunt has no plans to change the Mavericks. And though he’d like to bump the Mavs up to triple-A, he is clear a NHL team is not yet a realistic goal. However, in the same September week the Chiefs hosted the Patriots on Monday Night Football and the Royals embarked on their historic run, the Sprint Center did sell out a pre-season game between the St. Louis Blues and the Dallas Stars. So we’ll see whether more folks flock to Independence to watch the Mavs challenge the Tulsa Oilers or the Rapid City Rush.
And in Kansas City there is a growing base of kids who play hockey. But with only a smattering of rinks between Topeka and St. Joe, local teams often have to travel for tournaments. To bring the action back to town, Hunt plans to add more “sheets of ice,” and launch new youth programs, realizing that more ice also means more opportunities for figure skaters and the people who love them.
So I’m no diehard hockey fan, yet—though I hate to admit it, I still have much to learn about lines, zones, creases and the rest of the game’s dimensions. But count me among those excited by this news for Kansas City. A rising tide lifts all boats, even if it’s made of ice.
And here’s another secret: I’ve always wanted to drive a Zamboni.