‘Rent-a-Goalie’ creator tells Gary Bettman that hockey can wait

Chris Bolton loves hockey, but he feels the message that hockey will return is the wrong one to be sending while the dangers of the coronavirus remain strong.

Bolton was the creator and star of the TV series “Rent-a-Goalie,” which ran from 2006 to 2008 and included such guest stars as Phil Esposito, Darryl Sittler, Paul Coffey and Hayley Wickenheiser. Bolton called it a dream come true in part because he was a fictional sports executive interacting with hockey legends.

He’s not a sports executive anymore but Bolton, a writer/photographer who turns 50 Friday, penned a letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and others recently asking that the league not rush back to salvage revenues lost to the coronavirus shutdown.

“It’s a leadership issue,” said Bolton, who also addressed Leafs executives Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas in his letter along with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Toronto Mayor John Tory and others. “It is beholden on the leaders of our institutions to help the public, not get their hopes up on hanging carrots.

“We need to hear from them that we’re not going to restart the season when we have health-care workers needing (personal protective equipment) on the front lines, when people are sick in hospitals, and with no idea when this will end or when we will have a handle on it.”

None of the league, the province and the mayor’s office responded to a request to comment on Bolton’s email.

Bolton’s letter comes as government, business and sports officials study return scenarios from the virus, which has shut down the much of the world on many levels since early March.

Bettman said recently that the league is looking at every avenue possible for a potential return. And on Wednesday, in an interview with Sportsnet, he outlined a plan where the NHL would resume play in four league locations, divided by conference or division. The games would be played without fans and with limited media.

Florida Panthers president Matt Caldwell told reporters the league is targeting a July return.

Bolton is in favour of hockey being played again, but feels the priority should be fighting the pandemic.

“It’s fair and fine to talk about the return of the game,” he said. “We can talk about the future but it’s only a guess at when it comes back …

“Bettman is a smart man. He knows we don’t need sports right now.”

Bolton feels the commissioner has wrongly aligned himself with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has talked to the leaders of North American professional sports and encouraged the games return as soon as possible.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Trump’s leading adviser on the virus, said last week there is a way to bring sports back with athletes quarantined in hotels while playing in empty arenas or stadiums.

“Put (the players) in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them (under surveillance),” Fauci said. “Have them tested every week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out.”

Polls in the U.S. show fans aren’t in any hurry to join the players in arenas or stadiums. In a Seton Hall poll two weeks ago, 61 per cent of those canvassed who identified as sports fans said they would not feel safe attending games until a vaccine for the virus is available.

Hockey stars such as Morgan Rielly, Tyler Seguin and Drew Doughty have said that public health and safety far outweigh discussions about a return to hockey. “People are dying even more every day,” Doughty told reporters last week. “So I just don’t see how or when we’re going to be able to make any type of decision to return to the season.”

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That’s the message Bolton thinks all sports leaders should be conveying at the moment.

“Personally, I don’t think we see the end of this season, I don’t think they’ll play it,” Bolton said. “I love the idea of a tournament when it’s all said and done, an opportunity to fill the ice with the game again.

“But … if they (try to end the season) the way they’re talking about, it would be a way that would do nothing for me.”

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