Centre of the Continent

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The NHL Comes Home to Winnipeg

“Hockey in Canada has never been stronger …”

– Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner

Winnipeg NHL Announcement 2011-05-31 - c. E R A Brohm

After years of waiting and weeks of genuine anticipation, the NHL is back in Manitoba’s capital. Mark Chipman of True North Sports and Entertainment made the announcement along side Gary Bettman at the MTS Centre at 11:22 Central time this morning. This is the moment that big league hockey finally returned to the starving Winnipeg market. The party was planned at the Forks and this this morning, the event team went into overdrive. DJ’s, live music and video screens to broadcast the official word were in place in time for the announcement.

The 15-season Manitoba Moose will be staying put for now although there are as yet unconfirmed rumours that the successful American Hockey League team and farm team of the Vancouver Canucks may be headed to St. Johns, Newfoundland. As the AHL’s Winnipeg future may be uncertain, the only controversy surrounding the the NHL’s return is what the new team will be called. The hearts of the city of course lie with “Jets” but business and marketing gurus have suggested a change — new era, new team, new name. Will the name matter? If there is a new name, I foresee the stands filled with Jets jerseys for the first few seasons. Any new team will have to earn a place on the fan’s backs.

Organizers are planning to sell seats from $39 – $129 and the drive to sell 13,000 season tickets will start immediately. Is Winnipeg willing to shell out NHL prices to see hockey? Yes they are. As I overheard one fan, “The worst seats (in the MTS Centre) are still better then some of the best seats in the old Winnipeg Arena.” More importantly, Winnipeg and Manitoba faired better through the recent recession then most and actually continued to to see some growth. Development in the downtown core has been unprecedented and there is finally a credible long term plan for it to continue. This is a welcome change from the single-project miracles that by themselves had no hope of stemming the decay.

The rebuilding of Winnipeg’s street cred as a sports-friendly city began almost as the dust was settling from the loss of the Jets in 1996. The creation of the Manitoba Moose in that same year and the Pan Am games the next proved that not only could we support sports, we could do it after taking a huge hit to our psyche.

What’s next for professional sports in our city?  Major League Soccer perhaps? Bring back the Fury I say, the more the merrier.

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