Almost Home

            

As a Winnipegger, I’ve spent the last couple of years watching the NHL’s endless machinations to keep a team in Phoenix with considerable amusement and maybe just a touch of anger. For all the talk of arenas and owners, or lack thereof, I’d be lying if I said that I ever felt as if my Arctic outpost got the same level of league attention when things were going to hell in ’94 and ’95.

So tonight, as the first bits of news have begun trickling in that my hometown really was on the verge of getting a second bite at the cherry, I’m struck by how unsettled I’m feeling about the whole enterprise.

By 1996, like so many Jets’ fans, I was completely fed up with the NHL, and yet even then, the economic conditions that had sent the Nordiques away and threatened the Oilers and Flames were hard to ignore if one chose to be honest about the situation.

TOUGH TIMES

The Canadian dollar was headed for a lengthy swoon, and anyone foolhardy enough to own a team in a marginal market like Winnipeg was going to need deep pockets and extra revenue streams from a modern facility to cope. Even then, any team in that economic environment was still certain to be a very questionable proposition.

The owner and building didn’t happen, obviously, and away they went, headed to their desert oasis so that they might continue a long history of never being very good. My fandom, like most people’s, was rooted in local bonds built during childhood that carried on into my adult years. As a result, after the team moved the Coyotes became just another team from a place I didn’t give a rat’s ass about, no different from St. Louis or L.A. or PIttsburgh.

My indifference was mostly real, with only a slight bit of covering for the disappointment, and that attitude appeared to be shared by most of my fellow Manitobans. The Coyotes didn’t exactly carry many fans with them from here, and obviously I’m in that number that chose to gravitate elsewhere.

Even as the league’s center of financial power began to shift north after the lockout, there was still that nagging sense that the NHL’s move to conquer the Sunbelt was too precious a project to be allowed to simply fail without a monumental effort in every shaky market to prop things up. We’ve certainly seen that in Phoenix, and a cynic, or a realist, take your pick, might have thought that it would happen again elsewhere.

As a result, the default position for most people was that the league brass would rather die in a fire than retrace their steps to Winnipeg. Time has never really healed the wound here, and if anyone doubted that, the reaction by the locals during these last two years of speculation that a team might well be viable again in our mosquito-ridden hellhole should have tipped everyone off. Bruce Arthur touched on this the other day, showing a decent understanding of this insular spot for an auslander.

This really has been a community struggling very hard to rein in its hope so as not to be crushed if things went badly, and as the events of the last few days have sent this affair near the finish line, I was reminded of an article from the past that had nothing at all to do with hockey and absolutely everything to do with here.

Paul Tough passed through these parts nearly a decade ago to interview John K. Samson of the Weakerthans, and ended up writing more than a few hard truths about Winnipeg and its citizens. I was always particularly struck by this bit:

At the same time, there is a small-town resent­ment that often gets expressed as a com­pli­cated kind of self-loathing.

I can’t imagine a sentence that could possibly do a better job of describing the local zeitgeist that has been in place since forever, and even in these days where hope has replaced our normal skepticism about the motives of people in the league office, there’s still the clear sense that the NHL is only coming here because of an abject failure elsewhere, and not out of a belief that we were done wrong in the ’90s or that Winnipeg was a first choice market in their eyes. 

As an aside, it’s also, from my perspective, slightly unseemly to gloat over the failure of that other market, for whatever reasons it might have occured. As I mentioned last week, it’s not always easy to be a fan in the Southern U.S., and if their team is leaving, the people that cheered the Thrashers have every reason to feel as if they were let down in a way. I’ve been there. I get it. It feels like crap.

A NEW HOPE

With that all said, tonight is a night where the people here can begin to hope, in a tangible way, that something that means so much to so many will again grace our city in a meaningful way. Whether there is enough support for a viable franchise to exist in the long term is still an open question, but for the first time in a decade and a half, Winnipeg will have a proper chance to offer its answer.

  • Bob your writing here for the Flames has been amazing but no hard feelings from anyone here if you switch allegiances to your city’s new team! I for one hope that Wanye and the Nation staff instill you as the lead writer of JetsNation or whatever it may be called if you have the time for that!

    All in all, congrats!

  • Vintage Flame

    Pretty cool article Bob.
    You know I was never really a Jets fan to begin with, but was mad as hell when they left Winnipeg. Even though part of me felt like “The Peg” blew it on their own behalf by fans not showing up for the games, the majority of me felt like a great injustice was being done to a country that gave this great game life. It was not a dignified end at all.

    Over the past 15 years my opinion has shifted away from blaming the fans in Winnipeg to the apathetic interests of the NHL in protecting one of their own in favour of searching out fat wallets in the US with big television markets. I wonder now what the is the use of having a viewership of 20 million people that aren’t interested in watching what you’re selling?

    And what of the opinion I used to have of the fans in Winnipeg? Well that changed too. Winnipeg was a city that was hit hard by a down economy and you can hardly blame a ticket holder that chooses to provide for his or her family rather that providing for a millionaire’s.

    I guess in the end, I’m thrilled to have the Jets back in fhe fold and I’m happy for all the fans in Winnipeg, including yourself Bob,to once again have the chance to show the NHL that you too can be a great Canadian hockey city.

    So to you on this night, I say CONGRATS!

  • dangersuede

    Does anyone else think that they might be possibly working out a franchise history exchange with the Coyotes?

    The league owns the Coyotes and they could do an exchange where the “Trashers” get all history, the “jets” name and all records prior to them leaving the Peg. Phoenix gets to keep there citys hockey history and the “Trashers” keep 1996 and earlier?

    Of course if this is true

  • “At the same time, there is a small-town resent­ment that often gets expressed as a com­pli­cated kind of self-loathing.”

    This sounds AWFULLY familiar. “No one wants to come play in Edmonton cause the crappy weather”. “There’s nothing to do in this crappy town”. “There’s no culture here”, “There’s no nightlife here” etc, etc, lather, rinse, repeat.

    Good for Winnipeg (if it actually happens and it probably will). I’m mostly glad that Edmonton has now moved up down to number 2 on the least desirable places to play in the NHL list.

    Now, where’s a good place to store all my “Save The Jets 2022” signs?

  • Captain Ron

    I have to admit that after reading Roberts article this really hits home for me. As a former Winnipegger that was there, at the corner of Portage and Main during the rallies, and having donated to try to save the team I think there will be mixed feelings for many people if the Thrashers come to town. It really struck me that after reading many stories and comments on Flames Nation this is what had me sign up to put in my 2 cents worth. I’m a Flames season ticket holder and have been a fan since I moved here 12 years ago from Winnipeg. As a kid growing up in Winnipeg, and of course a Jets fan I can remember being at the corner of Portage and Main, years before they left town to see Ben Hatskin sign Bobby Hull to that million dollar contract. There is a laminated picture of that event attached to a toolbox in my garage just a few feet away from this computer. Its just a cool picture of an event in time that I always liked. When I was 15 years old I played in a golf tournament in WPG called the Police and Pal I think and Bobby Hull was a guest in our foursome. If the Jets do go back to WPG I hope that some other kid there has the opportunity to have these kind of memories with a future star player that I did with a star from the past. When the Jets left town Barry Shenkarow had to either chose to make millions or lose millions. I would have done what he did too. Nicely done article Robert I enjoyed reading it. I hope for all the fans in WPG the dream comes true and your prepared to support a team for a long time. It won’t come cheap but you can do it. I’m a Flames fan now but if the Jets ever come back and go on a run in the playoffs when the Flames are out of it I will definately cheer for them.

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      I belly laughed! Thanks that is great! I really will be happy to have a “Jets Nation” Another CDN team to loathe upon and stir the fire. Hope to meet the Jets in the western conference final in 3 years.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    Playing in the South East Division your Winnipeg Jets. Realignment. Teemu Selanne signs for a last time with the Jets. Don Whittman is rolling over in his grave. Bring back the Queen.

    • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

      I don’t quite know where this sentiment is coming from. I’ve lived in Edmonton and I live in Winnipeg right now. Winnipeg’s summers are actually a little nicer than Edmonton’s, and the winters are probably about the same. The travel schedule will be a little easier for a team in Winnipeg, especially once the new airport terminal opens in 2012. I would imagine Winnipeg and Edmonton will be nearly identical in terms of where players want to play.

      Edit: The nightlife is better in Edmonton, but the restaurant scene in Winnipeg is outstanding (except that you can’t get a donair here, ever). Roads are better in Edmonton, but there’s the whole cabin/cottage scene in Manitoba with all the lakes.

      • More travel (even with a new and improved airport). Edmonton is already the worst for that.

        Cabin/cottage stuff is for the summer season. Most players go home for those seasons.

        Taxes are way better in Alberta.

        Basically a smaller and seedier version of Edmonton. Right now the peg has a better facility but if the tea leaves I’m reading are right RX2 will be state of the art.

        Advantage Edmonton.

        Both will be towards the bottom and always will. I think that Edmonton has the edge though.

    • O.C.

      (edit) was not meant for @TC – meant for the Cleaver

      I agree with the sentiment. The lack of NHL execs officially or unofficially waving the “woo hoo” flag is all we need to see.

      The NHL brass are not fans of this.

      Like when all the girls leave with other guys… except that one in the corner, and she reminds you of your sister.

      Go ‘peg.

      Another team to cheer for against the ‘nucks and the ‘lames. And of course the Maple Laffs.

      (Hire Dale Hawerchuck is some capacity too.)