The SHL expansion team taking the ice in Kansas City next season officially has a name: the Smoke. The team also now has a president and a general manager, whom owner Hal Messinger introduced at a ceremony at the KC Live! event pavilion in the city’s downtown Power and Light District on Wednesday.
“We’re taking our first steps toward building a great organization that the whole Kansas City community can get behind,” said Messinger.
The team’s name was chosen from over 1,000 possibilities submitted by the fans. Smoke won out over four other finalists: Crowns, Burnt Ends, Cougars, and Bluesmen. The name “Smoke” obviously references Kansas City’s history as a barbecue mecca, but Messinger hopes the name will have a double meaning. “We hope our players will be like smoke: elusive and hard to get hold of,” the owner said.
In addition to unveiling the team’s logo and distributing free merch to hundreds of excited fans, Messinger also introduced the team’s newly-hired general manager and president.
The Smoke’s GM will be veteran hockey executive Garth Melvin. The 62-year-old Melvin has held various coaching and front-office positions for the last two decades, dating back to a stint as head coach of the ABA’s Long Beach Leopards back in the late ’90s. Most recently, Melvin has been working in the league office as executive vice president of hockey operations, so he has a good sense of the league and its talent pool.
“I love jazz, blues, and ‘cue, so KC is my kind of town,” said Melvin, to wild applause from the crowd. “I can’t wait to get to work putting together a team that can bring us home a trophy.”
Messinger’s choice for team president will make SHL history. Eddie Whitmore is a Kansas City native who has been working as a vice president for Messinger’s basketball team, the Knights. With his new position, he becomes the first African-American front-office executive in the SHL.
“When I was a kid growing up in Blue Hills, I never imagined that I would wind up doing something like this,” said Whitmore. “I can’t even say it’s a dream come true, ’cause I never dreamed this was possible.”
Whitmore hopes to draw a diverse fan base to Smoke games. “I want to smash the image of hockey as a white man’s sport,” said Whitmore. “Kansas City is a wonderfully diverse place, and I want to draw all kinds of fans to our games. I’ve got some ideas how to do that. But the biggest thing we can do is create a team and experience that’s a lot of fun. I want to make this team a happening in our community.”
The Smoke’s home arena, Heartland Telecom Center, is located right across the street from KC Live! in the heart of downtown. “I can’t wait for next year when I can get off work, head over over to the Power and Light District, get a couple drinks and some great food, then go see a Smoke game,” said 33-year-old Billy Rockwell of nearby Independence. “It’s going to be epic.”