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Berry Tramel: Oklahoma City lucky it didn’t get NHL

Berry Tramel

Come up to New York, and the NHL would talk about coming down to Oklahoma City.

The Quebec Nordiques were moving. Why not to OKC?

Sometimes we should thank God for unanswered prayers.

Some dalliances with major-league hockey were well-publicized — the 1997 expansion bid, an effort to buy the Edmonton Oilers a year later, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ visit two years ago after the Hornets showed OKC was a rip-roaring sports town — but some were not.

Norick, then Oklahoma City’s mayor, and sports consultant Rick Horrow were in New York to talk about the Nordiques.

"We went there with the full intention of making a deal,” Horrow said.

Alas, Oklahoma City was a pawn in the plan, leveraged to get Denver more involved, and in the end, the Nordiques were sold to a Colorado group and became the Avalanche.

Best thing that never happened to Oklahoma City.

Because we suffered one hockey disappointment after another, today we have the NBA. Because the Nordiques nor the Penguins nor expansion arrived, we have Kevin Durant and the Thunder.

Nothing against the NHL. Better to have major-league hockey than major-league nothing. NHL teams are precious possessions to the towns in which they play.

But the NBA is a bigger prize. Better game. Better profile. Better bang for your buck. The Stanley Cup playoffs are in their third week and drawing barely a blip on the national stage. When the Thunder makes the playoffs — April 2011 is the best bet — Oklahoma City will be a much higher plane.

Horrow has campaigned for Oklahoma City on both the hockey and basketball fronts.

"Communities compete like hell to land them,” Horrow said. "We should feel it’s a job well done, if you win an NBA franchise. You should embrace that franchise over the next 20 years. Recruiting industry is a high-stakes game.”

Now, of course, Oklahoma City is off the NHL radar. We are not a two-franchise city. Maybe in 20 years, but not now. Not any time soon.

"Oklahoma City was an impressive candidate,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

Daly said OKC’s courtship with the NHL helped demonstrate the city’s viability as a major-league market.

That’s doubtful. The Hornet home run put Oklahoma City front and center, and the NHL didn’t have anything to do with having us ready to take in George Shinn’s wayward franchise.

But it’s nice to hear nice things from a major-league sport’s No. 2 man.

"There was a lot to like about Oklahoma City,” Daly said. "We were going to have the right building. The demographics of the city were attractive.

"One of the major advantages of cities, if you’re the first in, you can establish a competitive foothold. That is very attractive.

You want to be in a situation where you’re the first in.”

First in was the NBA. Let’s hear it for unanswered prayers.

Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.

Back in 1995 NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made an enticing offer to Oklahoma City. AP photo