Evander Kane has a lot of things going for him. He's young, he's good-looking, he's charismatic. He's also a very good hockey player, so last year when he was a member of the Thrashers, his status as a dashing professional athlete enabled him to run in some fairly lofty Hotlanta circles. "I met a lot of cool people, rappers, actors," he says. "Jermaine Dupri, Ludacris, Chris Tucker, T.I., Young Jeezy... ." Kane even got to go bowling with his namesake, Evander Holyfield. Not a bad life for a 19-year-old.
Flash forward to the present day. Kane is with the same organization, only now the team is called the Jets and it plays its home games about 1,500 miles to the northwest of Atlanta in Winnipeg, a city where the most notable rhymesmith is a gent named Ace Burpee. Ace is a local morning drive-time deejay. He's also a hockey fanatic who wrote the lyrics for Jet Rock Anthem, a takeoff on LMFAO's ubiquitous Party Rock Anthem. Sample lyric: "Winnipeg, back again/Holla at your boy, Evander Kane." (When rapped with an authentic Manitoba accent, it actually does rhyme quite nicely.)
Yes, Winnipeg is back again. Sixteen years after the original Jets moved to Phoenix, the NHL has returned to—and is thriving in—a city that has virtually none of the characteristics one would associate with an ideal location for a major league sports team. Put it this way: It's hard to imagine someone ever booking an hour of ESPN's time to announce, "I'm taking my talents to Manitoba." Consider the following widely aired complaints.
• It's too small.
In the four major sports, only Green Bay is a smaller market than Winnipeg, which has a metropolitan population of about 750,000—roughly the size of Knoxville.
• It's too cold.
"The corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street is known to be the coldest spot in North America," says native son Monty Hall. (Yes, that Monty Hall.) It's an oft-repeated claim, but there is something almost supernaturally frigid about the iconic downtown intersection a few blocks from the Jets' home ice at the MTS Centre. Former Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice remembers his first visit. He called a friend on a pay phone from the corner but had to hang up early. "My hand was freezing to the phone," he says.
Science backs the anecdotal evidence: With an average temperature of 4.4°F in December, January and February, Winnipeg has the coldest winters of any city of its size in the world.
• It's too boring.
Last year, amid rumors that the Coyotes were going to move back to Manitoba, Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (who signed a free-agent deal with the Flyers last July) opined, "You don't want to go to Winnipeg, right? Not many people live there... . There's no excitement except the hockey. No park, no entertaining for the families, for the kids. It's going to be tough life for your family."