SUN Hockey Pool

Jets fan kept dream alive

TOM BRODBECK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:50 AM ET

So, who's the nutbar now?

When I first introduced you to diehard Winnipeg Jets fan Darren Ford in 2003, many of the sports pundits in this town wrote him off as a bonehead intent on raising false expectations among Winnipeggers.

Ford launched his Return of the Jets campaign seven years ago vowing to keep alive the dream of bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg one day.

He created a popular website, jetsowner.com, and insisted if we kept the idea of bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg in the forefront, we would eventually get a team again.

He was denounced and ridiculed by the so-called experts who "knew better" and was criticized for doing more harm than good by getting people's hopes up for nothing.

Seven years later, his critics are eating a healthy serving of crow.

"Pretty much everything I hoped would happen has," a somewhat vindicated Ford said Wednesday. "It's been a great ride."

It sure has. Seven years ago, the NHL didn't want anything to do with us. But because of the diligent work of Mark Chipman and his True North Sports & Entertainment group, a new collective bargaining agreement with salary caps and revenue sharing, a new building and now potential owners, Winnipeg is as close to getting an NHL franchise as it will ever be.

And don't kid yourself. Winnipeg's solid fan base and continued fanaticism with the idea of getting an NHL club back to the city played a huge role in getting us to where we are today.

People like Ford helped fuel that.

"The whole idea I was trying to put forth with this website was to make sure Winnipeg was always first in the headlines when relocation was discussed," said Ford.

"For a while we weren't, we were kind of the joke and it was always the Kansas Cities, the Las Vegases and the Hamiltons -- now we're front and centre." NHL commissioner Gary Bettman pretty much confirmed that last week.

"Frankly, if we're going to move a franchise, there are a couple of places in Canada that I'd like to give my attention, because when both Winnipeg and Quebec lost their franchises it was because -- I always talk about three things when talking about franchises: market, building and owner -- and both of those teams were moved because two of the criteria went away," said Bettman.

"There was no building and there was no owner; to the extent that those markets are in a position to deal with those issues, I'd like to try to fix something that I wish hadn't happened in the first place."

Nice.

Since Winnipeg has a building and a potential owner, we're pretty much first on the list.

And the efforts of people like Darren Ford have paid off.

"The only thing left is for a team to become available," said Ford. "The first one that becomes available I believe is ours."

When that will be, including what will happen in Phoenix and in other failing hockey markets in the southern U.S. this year, is anybody's guess.

But the progress we've made in bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg over the past seven years is nothing short of phenomenal.

And I'm not talking about the false rumours of press conferences that never happened or contracts supposedly signed that never were. I don't pay much attention to those.

What I pay attention to is when the NHL commissioner confirms he's had talks with True North about relocation and singles out Winnipeg as a probable next location.

"Certainly at the very beginning it was a little more of a dream than what it has become," said Ford. "We're not to the finish line yet but I can certainly see the ribbon."

Looks like keeping the dream alive wasn't such a bad idea after all.


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