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EVERYBODY LOVES WINNIPEG
MARK BECHTEL
January 30, 2012
Sixteen years after it abandoned North America's coldest city—and its smallest market—for sunnier, sexier climes, the NHL has returned better than ever, giving loyal fans of the reincarnated Jets, and every Canadian, something to cheer about
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January 30, 2012

Everybody Loves Winnipeg

Sixteen years after it abandoned North America's coldest city—and its smallest market—for sunnier, sexier climes, the NHL has returned better than ever, giving loyal fans of the reincarnated Jets, and every Canadian, something to cheer about

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Before the season, reports surfaced that Kane was seeking a trade to another team. Kane, who's now 20, denies the rumors, and insists he is enjoying himself. "When your sport is the Number 1 thing going, it's fun to be a part of," he says. He's no longer hanging out with rappers, but his Q Score has skyrocketed. And for every player looking for a fast-paced existence, there are two or three like winger Tanner Glass, a free agent from the plains of Saskatchewan who left the Stanley Cup finalist Canucks to sign with the Jets. "I wanted to be in another market that was going to have that same kind of passion," says Glass.

Since the Jets' move from Atlanta came together so quickly, the NHL didn't have time to devise and implement a realignment plan. Winnipeg is playing in the Southeast Division, which means that its schedule is loaded with lengthy homestands and brutal road trips. The Jets made a strong run in November and December during a 33-day stretch in which they played only two road games, but then slid out of a playoff spot during a just-completed run in which they played six of eight away from home. At week's end Winnipeg was in 10th place, three points behind the eighth-place Capitals.

The rough patch has led to some grumbling. Kane, who leads the team with 18 goals but hasn't scored since Dec. 29, recently drew the ire of first-year coach Claude Noel, who ripped him for playing passively. The winger was also the subject of rumors that he had been running out on his restaurant tabs, though an NHL investigation into the matter came up empty. "We've hit a bump in the road, but I'm fairly pleased," says Noel.

If the Jets are going to make a move it will likely have to come in mid-February, when they begin a 33-day stretch in which 12 of their 15 games are at home. The MTS Centre will be jammed with a crowd that will start roaring during the national anthem, when they scream the lyric "True North!" loud enough to startle anyone not expecting it. And while the Queen isn't there—she's in a warehouse in Ontario waiting to be auctioned off—there is a guy who holds up a mini portrait at every game. "[These people] feel the pulse of the game," says Noel. The whole episode is a declaration of love, but also a testament to a city that refused to give up hope, refused to have its spirit broken.

Now the team is back, and unlike their ill-fated forebears, these Jets have stable local ownership (including minority partner David Thomson, who is so rich he's an actual baron: the third Baron Thomson of Fleet) and a viable business model. Says Chipman, "We've got the realization that we lost something really, really meaningful—and that made bringing it back, protecting it, keeping it, that much more important."

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