NHL

NHL To Utah: From Wishful Thinking To Dream Come True

Apr 22, 2024, 3:26 PM | Updated: 4:21 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – Less than two months ago, I first met with Ryan Smith about hockey – we set up a series of interviews to discuss his efforts to bring the NHL to Utah.

During our first meeting, he said he genuinely believed we could have a team in Utah within the next two to five years. I still had doubts as much as I wanted to believe it to be true.

Fast-forward to last week when a string of unlikely events saw the NHL put the Arizona Coyotes franchise on hold and grant a new franchise to Ryan and Ashley Smith, who purchased all existing hockey assets – including the full Reserve List, roster of players, and draft picks, as well as the hockey operations department – from the now-dormant Coyotes.

Utah Gets NHL Franchise

The new Utah franchise will begin play in the Western Conference, Central Division, for the 2024-25 season.

I don’t remember the lamp or a genie, but someone is granting wishes for the Utah hockey community.

RELATED: Answering Your NHL To Utah Questions: Team Name? Where Will They Play?

During a press conference last Friday at Delta Center, the Smiths spoke about their new NHL team’s dedication to the community and the growth of hockey.

 

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Ryan said, “We have 70,000 kids with Junior Jazz that play … we ordered 70,000 jerseys. Think about that, we have a chance to educate and help develop an entirely new movement here that already has an incredible start. I mean, we have 5,000 registered hockey players.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman commented on what Utah could expect the NHL and SEG bring to the youth of Utah, “First of all, we believe that our sport and it’s in our declaration of principles is great to teach young people the values that you need to grow up and be a productive adult – teamwork, leadership, physical fitness, hard work, getting an education and so that’s what we think our game represents and USA hockey will tell you whenever we put a team in a place … youth hockey at all levels grows exponentially.”

KSL sports asked Bettman about the feasibility study the NHL just did for the ACHA’s University of Illinois team moving to the NCAA and if that is something we could expect to see for the ACHA teams in Utah, “Absolutely, we want to fully engage with the community and figure out ways to grow the game not just at the NHL level but at all levels.”

Currently, the University of Utah, Weber State and Utah State all have ACHA hockey teams.

Why Delta Center/Downtown Salt Lake?

The initial plan was to build a new hockey-specific arena south of the city with “Point of the Mountain” being a potential option.

This plan made sense for several reasons. It was all open space; you could build an area with great parking, restaurants, and shopping and it could draw from both the Salt Lake Valley and Utah County.

“When we originally started looking at this process the idea was just to build a new arena. President Adams, Speaker Schultz, governors, and the mayors all came together and just said, ‘what would it take to be downtown and just stay downtown? We need it downtown’, and I think we’ve all decided that there’s one moment here to reimagine what our downtown experience is in Salt Lake. I received last week a plan that gets us to about 17,000 or 17,500 here inside this arena that does not compromise our incredible basketball experience,” Smith said during Thursday’s press conference.

The newest NHL owner spoke in detail about the importance of keeping the Jazz and Utah’s NHL  franchise downtown, “This just isn’t about the arena; we know what new arenas look like all over sports. It’s actually about having more flow, more energy, more passion, more activity, more arts, more education, and being able to look back 30 years from now and say that’s the center of Salt Lake City.”

The Smiths explained that in the middle of planning their new sports and entertainment district, “Our elected officials, I know you guys get dragged every way possible; you guys literally stopped us in the middle of the process and said ‘these need to be downtown.'”

Those conversations seemed to have changed SEG’s focus from building a new arena to using this opportunity to revitalize downtown Salt Lake and make the city blocks flow better.

What’s in a name?

In a conversation with KSL Sports, Ryan said that when naming the team, “We have one chance to get it right; it’s too important to rush it.”

It makes sense, as frustrating as it seems for some fans online. Officially, SEG has stated that they may move forward with the name Utah on the front of the jerseys for the first season of play.

Meet the team

In case you haven’t heard, there is a “Welcome the Team” event this Wednesday night starting at 4:00 p.m. at Delta Center. It will feature player and coach introductions, hockey entertainment, free food, and giveaways.

You can find more details on the event here.

Puck Report is a podcast all about Utah hockey, from interviews with NHL stars to which Grizzlies players are about to take the next step, Utah Puck Report has everything for a Utah hockey fan. Find it wherever you find podcasts or on KSLSports.com. The show is hosted by KSL Sports’ hockey insider, Jay Stevens. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram. 

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NHL To Utah: From Wishful Thinking To Dream Come True