On April 28, 1996, the city of Winnipeg, MB lost its beloved NHL Jets. The Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes due to a combination of the financial realities faced by a small Canadian city, a weak Canadian dollar, rising player salaries and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s idiotic insistence that the National Hockey League needed to grow in places like Phoenix and Miami and Nashville and Atlanta. You know, places where it snows approximately never.Places where, even after fifteen years, NHL hockey ranks somewhere between high school track and field and college gymnastics in popularity. Places where the rink is half empty most nights—where they have to resort to all sorts of moronic gimmickry to sell the game (cheerleaders?! At a hockey game?!). Places where even deep playoff runs are greeted by tepid interest, at best. Places where hockey just doesn’t belong.
Well, yesterday, the fruit of this ridiculous southern experiment began to come to its logical fruition, as it was announced that the Atlanta Thrashers are coming north, and NHL hockey is returning to the Manitoba capital! As one who grew up playing hockey on the frozen Canadian prairies, this is welcome news indeed. I remember watching my Calgary Flames play against famous Jets like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, Keith Tkachuck, Thomas Steen, etc in the old Smythe division… I remember liking the Jets because beating them somewhat regularly helped ease the sting of the Flames routinely getting clobbered by Gretzky’s Oilers! I remember the classic blue and red jerseys with the famous Jets logo—they had better call this new team the Jets!!!… I remember the famous playoff white-outs in the Winnipeg Arena… Ah, memories…
Memories which made it even more delightful to watch Gary Bettman grumpily putting on a brave face yesterday as he announced that the NHL was returning to the city he was so instrumental in yanking it out of in 1996. It is deliciously ironic that many of these cities in the southern states that Bettman was so insistent were ready to embrace NHL hockey are floundering—Atlanta’s gone, Phoenix is on life support, Florida can’t be far behind—and might be making their way to the “true north strong and free” in the not-too-distant future. Hockey belongs in hearty northern places like Canada, Russia, Sweden, and, Finland, after all… I can’t wait to see the first game back in Winnipeg.
The only thing that could have possibly made announcement day any better yesterday would have been to listen to Vancouver hockey fans complaining about the timing of the announcement, whining about how the Winnipeg story was diverting attention from the appearance of their beloved Canucks in the Stanley Cup final agains the Boston Bruins.
That would have been just perfect :).