There would not be Admirals hockey today without the vision of one man: Blake Cullen, the founder and president of the Hampton Roads Admirals from 1989 to 1996.
After a successful 25-year career in Major League Baseball with the Chicago Cubs and National League, Cullen began Blake Cullen, Inc. (now Admiral Management Company) in 1986 to acquire and operate sports franchises. In January 1989, Cullen saw a game in the newly formed East Coast Hockey League. ECHL officials told Cullen that they were looking to expand the league. As he had recently seen an article about boxer and Norfolk native Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker, Cullen suggested the Hampton Roads area as a possibility. He visited the area and put on an ECHL exhibition game three weeks later that drew 6,200 fans on a Wednesday night. The next fall, the Admirals were born.
Cullenís Admirals were an immediate success on and off the ice Ė routinely ranking among the top teams in ECHL attendance and winning championships in 1991 and 1992. During the six seasons that Cullen presided over the Admirals, the team averaged over 7,200 fans per game and recorded 51 sellouts.
Cullenís first-class treatment of others endeared him to players, fans, media and staff. His business sense, extensive sports background and hiring of former Hampton Gulls and Toronto Maple Leafs coach John Brophy brought immediate credibility to not only the Admirals, but also the ECHL and minor league sports everywhere, and the success of the Admirals sparked a revitalization of Downtown Norfolk.