REDMOND, Wash., March 7, 2001 — The competition between Microsoft and Sun Microsystems could be described as “passionate” — and thats just the companies’ ice hockey teams. The two teams will face off Sunday in Seattles Key Arena in one of the featured games of the Microsoft Hockey Challenge tournament. Whats at stake is company pride and much more — theyll be playing to help raise $1 million for the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle.
The story of how the two software rivals became ice hockey combatants, and how Microsoft got a hockey team in the first place, is folklore around Redmond, says Nadine Kano of the Windows division at Microsoft.
It all began just three years ago, when Canadian and American Microsoft employees working on Microsofts mail server, Exchange, had their own exchange of what Kano describes as
“some harsh words.”
The exact words are long forgotten, but the means of settling the dispute lives on. The two sides brought out their hockey sticks, laced up their skates and settled it on the ice. It didnt matter that Brian Valentine, now senior vice president of the Windows division and then-goalie for the American side, didnt know how to skate. The Canadians let him stand on a strip of artificial turf, and they still won.
The next year, Valentine moved to the Windows division, where he put together another team to take a crack at the Canadian-led Exchange group. This time, Kano, Valentines speechwriter, wanted to play. She asked a friend working for Seattles minor league hockey team, the Thunderbirds, if the team would give her a lesson. The Thunderbirds said they would coach the Windows team in exchange for a donation to the Ronald McDonald House.
“We still lost, pretty miserably,”
But they were successful in another way — the event raised $10,000 for the Ronald McDonald House, with almost no effort.
“We were having beers after practice and Brian asked me, Do you think we could get Key Arena next year?”
Kano figured that with a year of planning and the help of Microsofts customers and partners, they could raise $1 million. And they nearly did, bringing in $750,000 for the cause and a crowd of 3,000 for the game. The contribution will help build a second Ronald McDonald House in Seattle. The facility now can serve only 22 families at a time, but the $12 million expansion will add capacity to serve an additional 62 families.
This year, the fund-raising goal for the Ronald McDonald House will stay at $1 million, but interest is skyrocketing.
“This year, more people and more companies wanted to get involved,”
“And once the Microsoft field offices learned we had a hockey team, we started getting invitations from all over North America to come out and play.”
The Seattle Ronald McDonald House, one of 200 Ronald McDonald Houses across the United States, Canada and abroad, provides a home-away-from home for families of children with cancer.
“Its a significant gift,”
says Pat McDonald, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle.
“Every one of the guys who plays on the Microsoft teams has been to the Ronald McDonald House last year and this year. They prepared dinners or brought dinner in for all of our families. They spent an evening playing with our kids. So when they go out on the ice, I know that they take more than just the desire to play hockey. They are not just Microsoft employees — they are really people with huge hearts stepping up to make a difference.”
That isnt to say the Microsoft players arent also skilled. Steve Fox, who grew up in Canada just outside Toronto, has been playing hockey for 27 years — and hes only 31.
“These kids must be pretty strong, they must be made of something a hell of a lot stronger than I am, because I dont know if I could deal with the situation as they’re doing,”
“To have a facility like the Ronald McDonald House is invaluable — to have a place where a kid could go to feel special, to feel like theyve got a home away from home, to get treatment and then be helped back in their communities is an amazing thing.”
Tryouts for the Microsoft team attracted more than 100 players. Microsoft now has three teams: Microsoft .NET, which is composed of the best players, Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Exchange.
Last month, the Microsoft .NET team played in Madison Square Garden in New York against a team from CommVault. The event raised another $30,000 for Ronald McDonald House. Earlier in February, the .NET team played the Philadelphia Flyers alumni in Delaware, and has more games scheduled this spring in Chicago and Columbus. Microsoft schedules several activities around the hockey games, including executive receptions and customer and technical events.
On March 10-11, the three Microsoft teams will take to the ice at Key Arena where they will skate against teams from Hawaiian Airlines, CRI, CommVault Systems and the NHL/Hollywood All-Stars. The featured game, however, will be the one pitting Microsoft .NET against their arch-rivals from Silicon Valley, Sun Microsystems.
“Whats really cool is that Sun Microsystems has agreed to come up and play us at Key Arena,”
“We think that takes a lot of guts. Were friends of the hockey team — theyre the big draw, theyre what everybody wants to see. As much as we compete with their company, we love their hockey team.”
Fans will also want to see the NHL/Hollywood All-Stars, which includes such celebrities as Wayne Gretzky, Kiefer Sutherland, Tom Arnold and DB Sweeney. They will also appear Friday night at a Microsoft reception.
Sundays game wont be the first matching the two software rivals; they had a pickup game last year in Silicon Valley. Soon after, Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the National Hockey League, sent Valentine a jersey to express how pleased he was
“to see that boardroom disputes are being settled using the best sport there is — hockey.”
Valentine wrote back, inviting the NHL to get involved as a sponsor.
“The NHL has been all over the place to help us,”
“They are extremely charitable, and in fact have the same charitable culture that Microsoft has. So its a real match made in heaven. The reason it works for us is that we can do these events around the NHLs hockey games. Rather than our spending money on golf tournaments where you can only have foursomes, with hockey you have much more interaction.”
“Hockey is a great sport, and its under-marketed in this country,”
“As a Canadian coming down here, and one who is very passionate about hockey, it’s rewarding to see a great sport get marketed for the right reason by the right company. The way I look at it, its just a win-win situation all the way around.”