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When you own a hockey club that has won the grand total of one playoff series since you bought the franchise in 2008, there hasn’t been much opportunity to take many bows.
But you’d figure Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz could take one now with the brilliant success — other than the Oilers’ exit in four games of the first round play-in qualifying series — of Edmonton’s Hub City hosting of the 24-team no-fans-in-the-stands coronavirus Stanley Cup playoff tournament.
Instead, your correspondent has learned, he bowed out.
The normally reclusive Oilers owner revealed to me this week that while he was in Edmonton for the event, he couldn’t handle being in Rogers Place.
While Katz was in the building for Game 1 of the Oilers’ series against the Chicago Blackhawks, he found it so difficult to experience that he didn’t go back to the building.
“I found that it was tough for me to go, to be in that building and be the only one there.
“To walk through that building we built and see it empty just tore my heart out.
“I watched at home while Harrison and Chloe went to all the others,” he said of his twin son and daughter.
Yet Katz, according to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, had been “relentless” in his effort to make Edmonton the NHL’s beginning-to-end Hub City.
“I remember one day I lectured the board of governors. Nobody said a word,” said Katz. “They were going to go to Vegas.
“It’s like I told them. How foolish would you be to go to Vegas?”
Katz made the comment in an exclusive interview this week that was originally set up to comment on the first draft missed by his son, Harrison, who had been an on-stage part of proceedings since he was eight, and is clearly being groomed as future owner of the franchise.
Katz made the other NHL owners listen up, and that’s why Edmonton will be spending October and November basking in the glow of the Hub City Stanley Cup playoff success story, instead of potentially making a mess of it like some of the other major leagues of North American professional sports.
“We have a master-plan community with everything connected, so you’re going to go to Vegas and bus players and you don’t have a hub connected to the arena and you’re going to go to a place that’s exploding with virus?
“We didn’t have one positive test!
“What nobody knows is that we were working with Alberta Health for more than two and a half months before. This was very well thought out. Nobody could have come close. But they were going to go to Vegas where it was exploding and where there wasn’t a master plan set up.
“Why do you think the IIHF is coming to Edmonton?” he said of the Dec. 26-Jan. 5 world junior championships, which will see 10 teams entering the Ice District bubble involving Rogers Place and the J.W. Marriott Hotel. “The IIHF is coming here because it’s a master-planned hub.”
When the Oilers made their exit, Katz and his son and daughter, who are attending the University of Southern California, headed south.
“I watched the NBC feed,” he said of the normal four rounds of best-of-seven series, including conference finals and the Stanley Cup Final being played in Edmonton. “I’ll tell you, Edmonton has never received exposure and publicity like this. The video shots of the city with the river valley and everything were wonderful. And to hear Kenny Albert and the NBC commentators raving about Edmonton made me really proud of what all of our guys did.
“What Bob Nicholson, Stu Ballantyne, Tom Anselmi and Tim Shipton did working 24-seven, and we didn’t make any money on this. We lost money. But it was it worth it.
“And hats off to Jason Kenney,” he said of Alberta’s Premier. “I’ll tell you, without Jason Kenney, there would have been nothing. There would have been no hub, no bubble, no testing … that’s one guy who gets it.
“I think we put Edmonton on the map as being one of the elite franchises in the league. People appreciated our facility. The majority of the people in Edmonton don’t even understand, but I can tell you, everybody that watched the NBC feed does. They said there’s nothing like Ice District anywhere. We couldn’t have got more profile for Rogers Place.
“I think it has to come from outside before you really realize it. I felt a lot of pride and I hope Edmontonians felt the same kind of pride, even though it wasn’t us hoisting the Stanley Cup. To see that Stanley Cup in our building knowing that we were the No. 1-ranked facility in the league … We were always the No. 1-ranked facility in the league, except nobody appreciated what Edmonton was.
“I was very proud. But all that said, I just couldn’t handle watching one of those games in that empty building.”
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @byterryjones
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