October 09, 2011
WINNIPEG -- So what's it like in Winnipeg right now, as the clock counts down to the first face-off for the new Jets?
Fans are standing in line to get into the souvenir shop at the MTS Centre. Fans are booing their Montreal Canadiens counterparts as they walk through the restaurant inside the rink.
Others are holding homemade signs in tribute to Mark Chipman, the man most responsible for bringing the NHL back after the league left for Phoenix 15 years ago. One read: "THANK YOU CHIPMAN." Another read: "CBC -- Chipman Buys Champions."
Hundreds are gathering at The Forks, a park near the confluence of two rivers with a big stage where bands are playing and the game will be shown on giant screens.
Walking up Main Street from The Forks toward the rink were two fans. Alex Edney, 24, was wearing an old white Tie Domi jersey, a flag with the new logo as a cape, a hat with the old logo and white sunglasses with rhinestones. Quincy Logan, 37, wore an old blue Teemu Selanne(notes) jersey.
They are golf course managers, so they not only spent $1,000 bucks for two $100 tickets, they threw in 10 golf passes, too.
"Oh, yeah," Edney said. "Absolutely."
"I was here for the last game back in '96," Logan said. "I can still vividly remember the arena that day. There were grown men crying. It was heartbreaking, that's for sure."
What does this mean now?
"It means everything," Logan said. "To have them come back, it's good for the city. People don't understand. This goes beyond just the hockey team. The businesses all around here, I mean, it's that much more business. It puts you on the map. It's a huge, huge deal."
"I was only 9 when they left," Edney said. "So it's huge for me. I've never been part of an NHL team. I was too young to remember the barn. This is just everything to me."
More photos from on-site in Winnipeg after the jump.
At The Forks were four more fans: David Flynn, 22, Kevin Crook, 22, Joel Refuik, 19, and Andrew Sain, 23. Crook was shirtless but sporting a Jets design in body paint that took two hours to complete. Refuik was painted-up, too.
"I was always at the Moose games body-painted, but boy, now that the NHL's back … You can't beat the NHL," Crook said. "It's NHL paint now. I feel a little weird. I like the green and black."
"You'll get used to this," Refuik said.
"I'll get used to this for sure," Crook said.
If there is a negative in all this, it's that when the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose played at the MTS Centre, fans like these could get in. They once snagged $35 tickets for $22 -- for a playoff game.
Now? Good luck. Only Sain had tickets to the game.
"It's only money," Sain joked.
"Says the guy with tickets," Refuik said.
"I want to find Mark Chipman somewhere," Crook said. " 'Mark, need some tickets, buddy.' "
Drawing media attention at The Forks was Justin Kiezik, 31. He held a homemade sign that read: "YOU MUST BE THIS TALL TO BE COMMISSIONER." It featured an arrow pointing to another sign that said: "BETTMAN." At the bottom of that sign was a doll -- the South Park character Cartman.
Wait a minute. Why rip on NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Isn't all forgiven now?
"The day it was announced, everyone was happy except for him," Kiezik said. "He was like, 'You better sell 13,000.' Well, I'm pretty sure we sold 13,000 season tickets. It's not going to be a problem."
Isn't Bettman the guy who helped institute the salary-cap system, and isn't that system a reason why the Jets are here now?
"All of it I think goes on Chipman," Kiezik said. "Chipman's the big guy. But we'll see. We'll go forward and see what happens."
Scott Dixon stuck out at The Forks. He was wearing a blue Dustin Byfuglien(notes) jersey, but it was a Thrashers jersey. He said he bought it last season when there was talk of the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, thinking he would wear it on this particular day. But he also hedged his bets.
"I have a Phoenix one, too," he said.