So it’s finally happened.
The NHL is making its way, though I’m sure somewhat sheepishly in the case of the commissioner, back to Winnipeg after True North Sports & Entertainment acquired the Atlanta Thrashers’ franchise.
To say the 15-year wait for hockey fans in the ’Peg has been an excruciating one would be an understatement as they watched other “non-hockey markets” receive franchises while their city was left standing at the altar, especially with the nearly daily rumours about the former Jets’ franchise, now in Phoenix, returning to their original home.
Now while it might not be the original Jets who will be residing in the MTS Centre come this fall and winter, I think it’s safe to say that hockey fans in Manitoba would be accepting of nearly any team that would come to the provincial capital.
That much can be surmised just by looking how fast the season tickets went, with the sales to the general public on Saturday lasting only 17 minutes.
With just over 2,000 tickets expected to be available to the general public for regular-season games, there probably will be a bigger fight to get tickets than the last Justin Bieber concert tour, which I definitely will try to be in on (the NHL tickets, of course, not the Bieber ones).
For us here in Fort Frances, it’ll basically be a win-win situation for a hockey fan next season as for the first time since 1993, there will be two NHL teams (Winnipeg and the Minnesota Wild) within a five-hour drive.
And along with that, there will be a good chance of seeing your favourite team if you are not a supporter of either the Wild or the yet-to-be named Winnipeg franchise (more on that later).
With both teams being in opposite conferences for the time being, fans of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin will have a good chance of seeing their favourite players hit the ice in Winnipeg with the team taking Atlanta’s spot in the Eastern Conference.
On the other hand, if you’re a supporter of Duncan Keith and the Chicago Blackhawks, or if you want to catch the Vancouver Canucks, chances are you’ll have a much greater chance of seeing them in St. Paul.
While franchise success was, to put it blunt, extremely lacking in Atlanta (one playoff appearance in 12 season), there is a chance to see a team work its way from the ground up for Winnipeg hockey fans when their new team arrives.
Former Stanley Cup winners Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien are the centerpieces of the franchise while youngsters Alexander Burmistrov, Patrice Cormier, and Evander Kane all are exciting prospects, which should help make the rebuilding process go quite smoothly for the club.
Which leads to the big question, what is this team going to be named?
If you ask me, there’s only one choice that is really going to please everybody—and that would be the Jets.
Okay, there is something to be said about wanting to start a new era and having a new identity for the team, and also the fact that the original Jets’ franchise stillis plying its trade in Glendale before their eventual move to Quebec City (okay, I’m theorizing that one myself, you caught me there loyal readers).
But this is a town that’s been waiting and aching for a NHL team to call their own again for a decade-and-a-half.
Heck, they’ve been probably been chanting “Go Jets Go!” at the top of their lungs ever since that last game at the Winnipeg Arena.
Plus, there have been previous examples of a new team taking over the name of an old one, as in 1999 when the NFL returned to Cleveland with an expansion franchise bearing the Browns nickname—despite the fact the original franchise was now located in Baltimore and called the Ravens.
Now as I said, it’s up to True North to decide what they want to name the team, but I’m going to give a real-life scenario on what might occur if they go with a new one.
This past season, the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack was renamed the Connecticut Whale, in honour of the late great Hartford Whalers NHL franchise.
Now, while it may not have been intended to be renamed the Whalers or bring back those memories, there was no stopping the crowd the night they returned in Hartford, with “‘Let’s Go Whalers!’ being yelled throughout the course of the game.
I’m going to hazard a guess right now that a similar situation might occur at the MTS Centre if a non-Jets’ named team takes to the ice.
Plus, are you going to against local hero Jonathan Toews, who said this past week in a press conference that he’s all for the team being called the Jets.
But while we all look forward to the return of a Canadian team to the NHL come next season, I’m already envisioning something that may happen a few years down the line—something that no one has really talked about yet.
Atlanta Thrashers’ nostalgia.
“Come on, Lucas,” I can hear you saying out loud.
“I have never met a Thrashers’ fan in my life. How in the world could I miss the Thrashers?”
First of all, you are right. I personally have never met a Thrashers’ fan (though if you are one, feel free to e-mail me and prove me wrong).
But how many of us who wear old-school hats and shirts of the Montreal Expos, the Quebec Nordiques, or even the Jets were fans of that team in the first place?
As the saying goes, absence does make the heart grow fonder, and I expect those same memories we have of the old Jets to eventually happen with the Thrashers.
The way fans speak now of when Teemu Selanne broke Mike Bossy’s rookie goal-scoring record in 1993 and proceeded to perform his classic machine gun celebration will be remembered just as fondly as that memorable moment in Atlanta when. . . .
Okay, maybe you are right—there are no classic Atlanta Thrashers’ moments.
The Thrashers are dead. Long live the NHL in Winnipeg.
(Though as a Pittsburgh Penguins’ fan, just don’t move the Red Wings into the Eastern Conference during the proposed conference re-alignment. I’m not ready for the pain of not winning a conference title for 20 years).
So it’s finally happened.