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NHL Returns to Winnipeg

Al Bello, ALLSPORT

This is a city that has been in need of a rebirth on a national sports stage for years. Finally with the collapse of an American franchise that was the thing that our Canadian neighbors needed.

“Save the Jets, Save the Jets” Chants were common in a town that has persevered through many bleak moments in its history.  It was a late April night in 1996 when the last Jets game was played in the province of Manitoba as the last appeals fell through to keep the Jets north of boarder.  The next morning the loyal Canadian fans would find out their team they have grown up loving was going to Phoenix Arizona.

From Red River Floods and massive strikes that involved the entire city, the town has had it’s fare share of hard times but none felt so devastating as their hockey team leaving for a city that’s year round average temperature is in the 70s.

Harry Scull Jr., Getty Images

Growing up I was a Winnipeg Jets fan, it came about because of 5 year old ignorance. I thought the NHL Jets were the NFL Jets winter job. Remember as a child, the New York Jets season would often be over in November right when the Winnipeg Jets would roll in for a series against the New York Rangers.  Between relatives who didn’t know the difference between the gear and my own childhood mistakes, I was turned in to a fan that was all set to have his first taste of heart break.

It was an April night not long after my 12th birthday, when my hockey loving cousin called the house to offer me a place at his New Jersey Devils fan club table.  Remember, I’m no longer 6 years old and I fully know that my 2 teams are separate entities. I laugh and make fun of him and state what kind of player Nikolai Khabibulin was going to be in a few years. It was then he informed me over the phone that the team I was in love with was moving from Winnipeg to Phoenix and changing their name.  I felt like I got kicked in the face.

I eventually became a Buffalo Sabres fan after a brief fling with the Devils, but I always held out hope that a team would return to Winnipeg and take the old logo and name of the Jets. The team name and logos are owned by the NHL through a loophole that would allow the team to return if another franchise moved back to Manitoba.

J.D. Cuban, Getty Images

On May 31st my childhood dream came true as the Atlanta Thrashers had been sold to North Sports & Entertainment and will be relocated to the Winnipeg area.

This marks the second time an Atlanta team has left the south for Canada, and should mark the last. I feel the NHL is forcing themselves into markets that just don’t fit.  Winnipeg is a smaller market but its big in heart and fan support.

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