The Winnipeg Arena will close its doors for good next month. Until then The Sun will bring you the stories that made the Old Barn memorable. From the original construction to the final buzzer, we'll take you through the history of a building that was never spectacular but always colourful as a sports venue. The 10-year-old from small-town Manitoba didn't know much about this new league calling itself the World Hockey Association, and he didn't know much about the Winnipeg Jets.
But as he walked, wide-eyed, along with his father and older brother into the Winnipeg Arena that October day in 1972, he knew one thing: he was there to see Bobby Hull.
The entire province had been abuzz since one of the game's greatest players jumped from the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks, giving the WHA instant credibility when he signed that huge contract back in June.
And while he didn't quite grasp the significance of it all, even a 10-year-old knew that shutting down Portage and Main to give someone a million dollars was a big deal.
So other than getting a hot dog and some popcorn, seeing Bobby Hull in person was all that mattered that day. In fact, this kid planned to go one further: he'd get Hull's autograph. That would be something to show the buddies back home.
The Jets of 1972-73 weren't exactly household names at that point.
Players with significant NHL experience included winger Ab McDonald, a St. Boniface product, and centre Norm Beaudin. There were career minor-leaguers like Steve Cuddie and Bob Ash. Two Manitobans, Joe Daley and Ernie Wakely, would share the goaltending duties.
The 10-year-old wouldn't have known any of them from Adam.
But he knew the Golden Jet the moment he saw him.
Bobby Hull was one of those athletes who transcend the game they play. Even if you weren't a hockey fan, you'd recognize him on the street.
And you'd drive an hour-and-a-half and pay good money -- not to mention stay up way past bedtime -- to watch him play.
Nobody played the game with the combination of speed and power Hull possessed. His wrist shot was said to travel 105 m.p.h., while even the thought of his slapshot kept goalies up at night.
"When the puck left his stick, it looked like a pea," goalie Les Binkley once said. "Then as it picked up speed, it looked smaller and smaller. Then you didn't see it anymore."
Seven times Hull had led the NHL in goals. Twice he'd been the league's most valuable player.
And while he was 33 years old that autumn, he wasn't exactly in decline -- coming off his fifth 50-goal campaign and 10th selection as a first-team, NHL all-star.
Hull's star status, almost mythical by this point, was such that he'd draw a crowd even when he wasn't playing.
Like on this night.
The NHL had taken Hull's departure to court, challenging his right to play anywhere else. And while the courts sorted things out, the game's greatest offensive force would start the season behind the Jets bench, as the highest-paid coach in hockey history.
The 10-year-old, of course, understood little of that. He'd come to see hockey's hero. And to ask him if he'd kindly sign his name to a piece of paper.
At some point during that game, looking across the sea of seats, the boy worked up his courage and decided it was time. Tearing the top flap from his popcorn box, he began to make his way to the end of his row.
Having never been inside an arena like this -- all they had back home was an outdoor rink -- the boy knew nothing of concourses, so he continued to shuffle from row to row, section to section, politely asking people to let him through. Some may have been laughing at his ignorance, but he didn't notice.
All that mattered was getting to the man wearing the suit behind that bench.
After what seemed like an hour, but was probably no more than 10 minutes, the boy reached his destination, stretched his arms over the glass and asked Mr. Hull if he could please sign his piece of paper.
Now, one of the qualities that made Hull such a fan favourite was his seemingly tireless effort to sign every autograph asked of him -- even if it was during a game, apparently.
Because the next thing the boy knew, the same famous hands that had scored all those goals and held that million-dollar cheque at Portage and Main in the summer took the flap from the popcorn box, signed it and handed it back over the glass.
The star coach turned his attention back to the game, while the star-struck boy returned to his seat.
For years, that box top, emblazoned with Hull's unmistakable signature -- the fancy H that looped way to the left -- enjoyed a cherished place in the boy's dresser drawer.
It finally disappeared, as will the Arena in the weeks to come.
But the boy, now a sportswriter, will carry memories of both with him forever.