Jerry Bruckheimer says he’s had a camera in his hand since the age of six.
Around the same time, the future Hollywood producer also got a first taste of hockey.
“My dad took me to a Red Wings game and I sat in the rafters there and looked down on some of the great players who were playing in those days,” Bruckheimer recalled of growing up in Detroit watching Gordie Howe and his teammates. “I got very excited about the sport.”
But as the years passed and the movie mogul’s career took off, Bruckheimer drifted away from the game until the trade that shook hockey brought the Great One to California.
“When Wayne Gretzky came to Los Angeles I started taking skating lessons and have been playing ever since,” he said. “I get up and down the ice as slowly as possible, but I still get there.”
A frequent attendee of Kings games, the 75-year-old will soon be even closer to the action as a minority owner with Seattle’s new NHL team after the league approved the city’s expansion bid at this week’s board of governors meetings.
“It’s exciting and daunting and scary and all the things,” Bruckheimer added after the announcement in Sea Island, Ga. “You just want to do right for Seattle, and bring great players and hopefully pick a name where we won’t get too many people mad at us. That’s the daunting challenge that we have, but we know that Seattle has the greatest fans.
“We’re going to educate the ones that don’t understand hockey on what a wonderful sport it is.”
The league’s 32nd team will start playing in the previously-untapped U.S. Pacific Northwest beginning in 2021-22.
Currently shooting a sequel to the 1986 blockbuster movie “Top Gun,” Bruckheimer could barely contain his excitement ahead of Seattle getting the official thumbs from the NHL, snapping pictures of the media with his digital camera before commissioner Gary Bettman’s official announcement at a packed press conference.
He said afterwards that joining billionaire majority owner David Bonderman’s group pushing for a team in Seattle was a no-brainer.
“It’s a phenomenal city, it’s got a great work force, it’s got a very young work force, it’s got some of the greatest sports fans in the world,” he said. “Every time I turn a Seahawks game on I see how rabid their fans are.”
Seattle team president and CEO Tod Leiweke said there was incredible anticipation before meeting with representatives of the league’s other 31 teams following the unanimous vote.
“We’re outside the door. We heard our video playing. We thought, ‘Well, that’s a good sign,’ because I always get goose bumps when I see that video,” Leiweke said. “We walked in and there was love and warmth and it felt just right.”
While the NHL’s expansion to Seattle seemed like a slam dunk from the outside, Bruckheimer said he wasn’t counting on anything until getting the official word.
“I don’t believe anything until it’s done,” Bruckheimer. “You have disappointments when you get your hopes up and it doesn’t happen. Today was it. When they called us in that room and said ‘congratulations,’ then I knew we were there.”
Seattle’s NHL team is expected to begin the process of filling its hockey operations staff as early as next spring or summer, but don’t expect Bruckheimer to be a meddling owner.
“I leave it to professionals,” he said with a smile. “We try to hire really good people to run the organization. Smart people stay out of it (and) let the people who know what they’re doing do it.”
NYLANDER CONTRACT DISPUTE THE NEW NORM?
Negotiations between William Nylander and Toronto GM Kyle Dubas on a new contract went down to the wire on Saturday. The restricted free agent’s impasse with the team finally ended with a deal that carries an average annual value of US$10.2 million this season and $6.9 million for years two through six. With a number of young stars — including Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Patrik Laine and Mikko Rantanen — all set to hit restricted free agency next summer there could be more holdouts are on the horizon. But Bettman’s announcement this week that the salary cap is likely to jump from $79.5 million to $83 million next season should give teams a little more wiggle room.
BARKOV’S BYNG CHASE
Second in voting for the Lady Byng Trophy in 2015-16 and third last season, Florida captain Aleksander Barkov is taking another stab becoming the league’s most gentlemanly player. The 23-year-old has drawn an NHL-best 19 minor penalties so far this season without being whistled for a single infraction himself in 26 games. Barkov also sits tied for third on the Panthers with 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists).
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Joshua Clipperton’s weekly NHL notebook is published every Wednesday
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press