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NHL Board back where it all began

by Shawn P. Roarke
MONTREAL -- Not much fazes Don Waddell when it comes to hockey.

Waddell, the Atlanta Thrashers' executive vice president and general manager, has seen most of what hockey has to offer during 30 years of professional hockey as a player, a coach and a manager, including a Stanley Cup while an assistant GM with Detroit in 1998, the year before he was named GM of the Thrashers.

Yet Waddell found himself on shaky ground Saturday morning when he reported for the NHL Board of Governors meeting at the Windsor Ball Room, just blocks from the Bell Centre.

"It put some chills through my body," Waddell said.

And, it wasn't the minus-17 (Celsius) temperature that has put the city in a deep freeze that had Waddell shivering. Instead, it was a sense of history.

The NHL purposely chose the Windsor Ball Room location to celebrate the birth of the League back on Nov. 26, 1917 when five of the League's six owners met at what was then the Windsor Hotel to hash out the agreement that would give birth to the League.

The League commemorated the momentous event in 1993 by installing a plaque in the lobby of the Windsor Hotel building that some of the governors stopped to check out at some point. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman also encouraged the media on hand to check out the plaque.

"It was a pretty unique experience," Waddell continued. "For somebody that thrives on the history of the game, I feel fortunate and proud to be able to sit in this room."

Toronto GM Brian Burke guards the NHL's traditions and history as fiercely as anyone. He is fluent in most of the League's greatest moments.

"It was a pretty cool when they explained this was the place that the NHL was born," said Burke. It was a neat way to start a meeting."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was the one who made sure that the meeting was held at this ballroom to add some sizzle and extra meaning to the traditional All-Star Game version of the Board of Governors gathering.

In his formal remarks to the media at the conclusion of the meeting, Bettman made sure to note the significance of the room, something he did privately as well with the meeting attendees before getting down to business in the morning.

"It is important to note that this magnificent facility is the place where the League was formed in 1917 and where the Canadiens were founded in 1909," said Bettman, whose first All-Star Game as Commissioner came in this same city in 1993, 16 years ago. "I think the people here 92 years ago would marvel at how the game has grown."

The men gathered Saturday for the 2009 Board of Governors meeting, meanwhile, marvel at these pioneers that put the League into motion almost a century ago.

After the meeting broke up, Edmonton General Manager Kevin Lowe mentioned that the League's Montreal office has pictures of some of the managers involved in the early discussions to form the League. Images of those men, he said, popped into his head as he sat in the same Windsor Ball Room.

"You think of all the individuals that were a part of making the NHL and they were in this very room," said Lowe.

"It is important to note that this magnificent facility is the place where the League was formed in 1917 and where the Canadiens were founded in 1909. I think the people here 92 years ago would marvel at how the game has grown."
-- Gary Bettman

The weight of history was almost tangible for some of the men summoned to Saturday's meeting.

"When it was brought up by Gary that this is where the NHL began, that was pretty cool," said John Davidson, the president of hockey operations and alternate governor for the St. Louis Blues. "The history of our sport is so important and should be celebrated." 

But Saturday was also about the present -- and the future -- of the game that was birthed here nine decades ago. The men that were awed Saturday by the history of the room were gathered there to ensure that the League continues to grow from its modest roots.

And, they took that responsibility seriously during a fast-paced meeting that lasted two-and-a-half hours.

Among the topics of conversation were an update on the League's economic issues; a presentation of hockey operations-related issues delivered by Colin Campbell, the League's senior vice president and director of hockey operations; and a presentation from Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly on the legal and international hockey-related issues the League faces.

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