Last night 17,779 hockey fans (a few thousand may have been wearing invisibility cloaks) filled the Sprint Center for a meaningless exhibition NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings, and they were treated to a thriller. The Penguins tied the game 1-1 early in the third, then took a 2-1 lead, only to watch the Kings level up at 13:43 in the period and force overtime. Five minutes of 4-on-4 hockey couldn't settle the game, forcing a shootout that went eight rounds, ending when Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen scored on Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier, bringing the Sprint Center's only professional hockey game of the year to an end.
As you can see in the video above, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma gave at least a lukewarm endorsement of Kansas City as a hockey town. Of course, he was swayed by the largely pro-Penguin (so many Mario Lemieux sweaters!) crowd.
But, judging by what AEG president Tim Leiweke told the Star yesterday, it sounds like hockey fans should gird themselves for several more years of one-off preseason games. Leiweke, who is the Kings governor and whose company runs Sprint Center, gave the Star's Randy Covitz a boatload of "don't get your hopes up" quotes about Kansas City's hopes for landing an NHL franchise.
"Right now there is not an urgency," he told the paper, adding, "this building is doing phenomenal. When we began this process, if we would have known this building could stand on its own two feet and be one of the top five buildings (for concerts and family shows) without an anchor tenant, we would have been going around telling people, 'If there is an anchor tenant that makes sense, we’ll get it, but we don’t need it.'"
Oh, that's just wonderful to hear. It's like a parent telling their anxious kids not to get overly excited about their Christmas presents because Christmas will arrive at some unforeseen point in the future, but we'll be just fine without Christmas altogether.
By far the most frustrating thing Leiweke told the paper was this: "We’re fine without one, and we probably make more money without one. And the city makes more money without one. That said, if we can make the right deal and find the right team, I definitely think that’s what we have to do here."
This is the kind of line that makes hockey fans so rage-y. Are we really to believe that AEG and the city would be happy to make less money if they find the "right deal"? Between AEG's new plaything in Los Angeles and Mayor Sly James deciding we can be picky about what teams move to Kansas City, it is increasingly clear that a "right deal" is a myth used to calm local NHL and NBA fans while the Get Motivated circus of has-beens and the professional bull riders tour blow in and out of town.
On the plus side for those of use who got hoarse screaming at non-local teams last night, one game is better than none. With the NBA canceling the preseason game between the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets planned for Sprint Center next month, Kansas City's hoops fans have it harder this year.