The Collected Wisdom of Vegas Golden Knights president Kerry Bubolz
The Vegas Golden Knights are perhaps the best story in professional sports this season. An expansion team picked to finish last in the National Hockey League is one of the best in the league.
The president of the Golden Knights is an Oklahoman. Kerry Bubolz, 51, grew up in Tulsa and has worked in sports management for 30 years.
A 1989 graduate of Oklahoma State University, Bulbolz worked in minor league baseball for the Tulsa Drillers and Quad Cities in Davenport, Iowa before becoming business general manager of the Wichita Falls Texans in the Continental Basketball Association.
He later was president of the Cleveland Lumberjacks in the International Hockey League before joining the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes.
Prior to becoming president of the expansion Golden Knights, Bubolz worked 13 years for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the last four as president of business operations.
I always had a passion for the NHL. I love the sport. I love the athletes. I love the skill. I never played in my life but it really became my favorite sport.
My dad had season tickets to the (Tulsa) Ice Oilers for about six years through his business. He would always bring a customer or two and I would tag along with them. They would just turn me loose and I would go down to the ice level and watch the warm-ups and ultimately go sit with them during the game.
For about three or four years we missed only about 10 games. We were going to just about every game. That is definitely where my exposure and love of the game started. I just remember the games being a heck of a lot of fun.
I can remember a few times when I got a little bit older, I was probably 14, my parents let me and a couple of my buddies go with the booster club and we would jump on the bus and go to Oklahoma City and watch them play the Blazers. We covered the Central Hockey League on a few of the booster club bus trips.
I went to Tulsa Memorial, graduated in 1984 and was a baseball player. My senior year we won the 5A state championship. It was a pretty special experience. I ended up going on to what used to be called Westark Junior College in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
I played baseball for two years and found I wasn't good enough to play at the major college level and moved on. I finished my schooling at Oklahoma State and got a marketing degree and ended up working for the Tulsa Drillers.
I always knew I wanted to work in sports but I didn't know anything about the business of sports. I got an opportunity to meet the GM of the Tulsa Drillers baseball team. I saw an article in the Tulsa World about him and his role as the business general manager of the Tulsa Drillers.
I called him up and said that was exactly the kind of job I was thinking about. He said come on down. I remember I met him on a Saturday and about three weeks later he called and offered me a job working the season.
Joe Preseren, who has since passed away, was the GM (of the Tulsa Drillers) and he used to stand at the gates every game and greet all the fans as they came in. He really knew all of the fans in a very unique and personal way.
(My job as president of the Vegas Golden Knights) is anything and everything associated with running the business. We have a general manager, George McPhee ,who runs the hockey and reports to our owner, Bill Foley. I run all the business operations for the team.
I don't sit in a corporate box and watch the games. I am moving around throughout the building literally the entire game and seeing our customers and seeing our fans. That started from my days working with Joe, watching him work the crowd when people came in.
It was incredible (winning the NBA title in Cleveland). It was kind of lifetime mission. Back in '02 when I was in Carolina, we went to the Stanley Cup Finals and lost to Detroit and that was disappointing. In '07, when I was in Cleveland we went to the NBA Finals and we lost and in 2015 we went to the NBA Finals and we lost. I was 0 for 3.
We were down 3 to 1 do the Golden State Warriors back in '16 and I thought maybe it's not my year again. Then we went on a magical run and won three games in a row, including two in Golden State. We closed it out and won a championship in Cleveland for a city that hadn't had a major professional sports championship since 1964.
All the credit (for the Golden Knights' success) goes to our general manager, our scouting group and our owner. During the year when we were preparing for the expansion draft, they did a fantastic job.
Right out of the gate they won eight of their first nine games. They just continued to build on that throughout the season, leading the Pacific Division and ultimately just setting every expansion record possible.
It's amazing what happens when you get a group of players that maybe weren't the best players on their teams. They work incredibly hard and have the right character and then they all have a little bit of a chip on their shoulders because they were all players that their teams didn't want anymore.
Candidly, I think everybody was surprised. We knew we would be competitive. We knew we had really strong goal tending with Marc-Andre Fleury from the Pittsburgh Penguins with his three Stanley Cup championships. Everybody thought we would struggle scoring goals and we are actually second right now in the league. Our top line has just been incredible.
There are probably a lot of parallels with what you saw early on and even continue to see with the Thunder. This is a city that was forever trying to get a major league franchise and to finally get it done, there has just been an incredible energy and excitement.
Literally every game, at the bars and restaurants throughout the city, people are showing up in their (Golden Knights) gear and they are watching the games. It's really become almost a communal thread that has brought this market together.
What we have Las Vegas more so than probably any other market in the country is you have a very small percentage of people who were born and raised here. The vast majority are from other cities around the country and even Canada. From that perspective, the team is kind of the one thing that threads everybody together.