By HARVEY ROSEN I must admit that the 2015 Rady Jewish Community Centre Sports Dinner Organizing Committee chaired by the indefatigable and personable, Blair Worb, threw me a curve when I was anticipating a fastball right over the middle of the plate and I struck out swinging.

You see, the chosen few have chosen NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman as their featured guest speaker on their earliest dinner date ever - smack in the middle of the race for the Stanley Cup. The 43rd Rady JCC event will be held on Thursday, May 7th at the RBC Convention Centre.
When the well-known organizer and one-time TV and radio broadcaster, Ernie Nairn, only days before the official announcement, shared with me the name of the celebrity who was possibly coming to dinner, I opined that the price must have been right.
I mean, the now 62-year-old Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.) 1974 graduate would be following some really tough acts that had delivered the goods in spades on previous occasions such as Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Drew Brees, Mark Messier, Joe Montana, Cal Ripken Jr. and Peyton Manning among many others dating way back to 1973 when necessary fund raising dinners began in earnest and slowly grew to attract sports aficionados of all denominations.
Gradually, I began to soften my stance towards one-time bad boy Bettman serving as the guest of honour. Truth be known, he wasn’t exactly beloved by all and sundry in the Province of Manitoba. I mean even the polar bears at the zoo must have blamed Gary in 1996 for relocating the original Jets to Phoenix, Arizona where they were hardly a howling success.
I also reckoned that with the additional educational background he acquired at New York University School of Law, where he majored in Industrial and Labor Relations and having had a wide variety of work experiences, Bettman might prove to be a somewhat more interesting study than, say, some athletes who might be one dimensional.
Gary, for example, was previously Senior Vice-president and General Counsel to the National Basketball Association and learned much from the recently retired commissioner, David Stern.
In May of 2014, he was named “Sports Executive of the Year” by the Sports Business Journal and Sports Business Daily.
Not to mention the love-hate relationship that many hockey aficionados had with the commissioner, who had been a central figure during  three labour stoppages, including the 2004-05 NHL lockout that saw the entire season cancelled.
In addition, critics accused Bettman, who has held his present post after taking over from Gil Stein on February 1st, 1993, of having an anti-Canadian agenda and being more interested in creating franchises in the southern U.S., such as the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, and Nashville Predators, rather than strengthening or relocating to Canadian cities, such as Hamilton, Quebec or  Winnipeg.
No doubt he was as popular with the players’ union as bedbugs when, during his tenure he locked out the organization three times.
In sharp contrast Bettman’s tenure also shows that his negotiations with major Canadian and American networks put more money in the union’s treasure chest and players’ pockets.
Let us not forget that Bettman also did the bidding on behalf of a lot of millionaire sportsmen. He championed the Canadian assistance plan whereby a revenue sharing agreement saw American teams create a money pool to help support the small-market teams when our Canadian dollar (past and present) shrunk faster than a Dollarama tee-shirt.
The Bettman family consists of wife Shelli and three children, Lauren, Jordan, and Brittany and now resides in Saddle River, New Jersey from whence Gary will be galloping by to sup with a crowd of charitable-minded folks. Some of whom will no doubt recall that when Bettman came to Winnipeg in the summer of 2011 to pronounce at a press conference that “The NHL is back in a place we wish we hadn’t ever left in 1996 !”
Surely, by now, all will have been forgiven, won’t it?

As of March 26th Nairn shares that 1,065 tickets have already been sold. Fair enough to say, the ducats are selling at a brisk rate. In 2014 Magic Johnson drew approximately 1,600.
To be honored this year at the dinner will be Arnold Frieman (owner of Advance Electronics) and his wife Myra, along  with their daughter Nona and her husband Ashley Leibl for all the many contributions they have made; not only to the Jewish Community and the Rady JCC Centre but to the Winnipeg community at large. Arnold was also recently honoured by the Deer Lodge Hospital Foundation. Nona has also been a great help as a member of the dinner committee for a number of years. Husband Ashley is a tire stores owner in Winnipeg.
Soon to be announced will be the names of the nominees for the 2015 Jewish Athlete of the Year. This group is going to be one of the strongest in many moons.
The popular Sara Orlesky of TSN will once again be Guest M.C.
Last year many concurred that she was one of the best to date.
The writer, a Jewish Winnipegger, is a former school teacher, and covers football and hockey for Canadian Press and Broadcast News.
Keep in touch with Sporting Touch. Send news about Jewish sports to Harvey Rosen, 360 Scotia Street, Winnipeg, Man., R2V 1W7, e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.