LOS ANGELES — Eric Tosi grew up in Beverly, Massachusetts, a city in Essex County along the shore that sits 30 minutes south of Boston, a place where the love of all things Bruins cross countless generations.
He cheered for Cam Neely and Ray Bourque.
His father loved Bobby Orr.
His grandfather followed Eddie Shore and Milt Schmidt.
His nephews now can’t get enough of Patrice Bergeron.
“Those roots run deep through the family,” Tosi said.
It is this devotion to all things cross checking and blue lines that the 35-year-old Tosi now faces a unique challenge: How to educate and engage a desert fan base in hockey.
How to nudge those in Las Vegas toward not only falling in love with the Golden Knights but also the game they will play.
Tosi is part of a contingent of those from the NHL expansion franchise attending All-Star weekend at Staples Center, where the skills competition will take place Saturday, followed by the game Sunday.
Where the likes of Orr and Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux sat on the same platform Friday evening and spoke about the league releasing its all-time list of Top 100 players.
Where they all agreed the best in history was named Gordie …
Tosi is Vice President of Communications and Content for the Golden Knights, having arrived from a decade-long run with the Bruins, for whom he most recently held a similar title.
Which means it’s his job to create and deliver the message to media and fans.
It’s true that a bulk of those who will make T-Mobile Arena home for hockey could be transplants, a group of folks who live in Las Vegas but who were raised on the game elsewhere, who know it and understand it and appreciate its unrepentant sense of toughness and skill.
My friend Chuck is such a person. He’s from Buffalo and is a complete nutcase about anything Bills and Sabres, which means we spend a majority of the time making fun of him and the other two minutes feeling sorry for him.
“I do think that while Las Vegas is a nontraditional hockey market, its transient nature does allow for a pretty significant amount of hockey knowledge to exist,” Tosi said. “I think the market is underestimated for how many people have been exposed at some point to the game, people who lived in New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Boston and Canada and elsewhere, who now make Las Vegas home.”
It’s those who might not have such an intimate grasp of hockey’s inner-workings and tactics that Tosi and his staff need to reach, those who might want to relate to the game but will have had no formal exposure to it, who might have at one time heard of someone such as Gretzky but don’t know a thing about Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid.
In Boston, the Bruins on a normal practice day might have had four to six TV cameras and 10 print reporters, and that’s in a market that also offers athletes such as Tom Brady and, before his retirement, David Ortiz. On game nights, Tosi often credentialed 150 to 200 people. For the Stanley Cup Finals, things flirted with fire code violations to accommodate all media.
There won’t be as heavy a presence in Las Vegas, but while hockey knowledge certainly isn’t the easiest thing to grasp, how it is communicated through various outlets could go a long ways in developing the sort of committed fan base the Golden Knights need to avoid becoming the next Arizona Coyotes.
Who will be the team’s stars once the expansion and entry drafts take place?
How much will the overall awareness of those names in Las Vegas aid in growing the base?
Some players like the spotlight; some don’t. Some are like the U.S. player during the gold medal game against Canada at the Junior Worlds earlier this month, the one who took a few minutes after the third period and before overtime to conduct interviews. Some aren’t.
“It will time for fans to know who’s who, but the NHL is a league full of young star players,” Tosi said. “A big part of our strategy is to develop programs that cater to our audience. We’ve talked to those in markets like Dallas and Nashville and San Jose, similar to us having joined the league as teams without that hockey tradition. Education plays a big role in growing your base, and not just with kids but with their parents, who might not know a lot about the game.
“Las Vegas is a magnetic place, a really welcoming city. There is a lot of excitement about the team.”
Now, it’s up to him to teach others about it.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.