SUN Hockey Pool

Winnipeg won't let NHL go again


, Last Updated: 11:00 AM ET

As the clock ticks down to the official press conference and celebration of Winnipeg being back in the NHL, it seems like the number people predicting it wonít work in Winnipeg picks up.

There are arguments.

Yes, the MTS Centre will be underwhelming compared to the $450-million dollar downtown arena planned for Edmonton or a new building likely coming soon in Calgary as well. No, it does not compare to the relatively new buildings in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

Yes, there will only be 15,015 seats and 48 suites for the second coming of the NHL in Winnipeg.

But they will be 15,015 full seats and 48 full boxes even if the box prices end up being triple what they cost right now.

True, the population of Winnipeg is not much over 700,000 and thereís not many more people in a 50-mile radius. But they are 700,000 hockey fans.

And no, Winnipeg isnít flush with corporate head offices willing to pay the kind of money for a ticket the people pay for tickets in Toronto.

Ticket prices averaging maybe $75-$85 are going to be a major adjustment to what Winnipegers were paying when the Jets left town ($23.82 on average) and the rates to watch the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League.

But theyíll be sold. This isnít just about two tickets to a hockey game.

Itís about two tickets to self esteem.

Most everybody seems to be missing the one big argument why Winnipeg will be successful, an argument that trumps all the arguments against.

Winnipeg lost their NHL team!

They watched Nikolai Khabibulin and Shane Doan wave goodbye and went from a major-league city to a minor-league city overnight. They watched kids carry their piggy banks to ďSave The JetsĒ rallies.

Contrast Atlanta, where they could barely round up enough people to fill a penalty box and where the mayor Tuesday said ďItís going to hurt the city, but we are going to withstand it just fine.Ē

For the past 15 years, Winnipeg has existed in exile as a second-rate, substandard, unworthy whistle stop in the boondocks. All because it was a Canadian city that lost the big-league team in the sport that makes our blood boil.

For the past decade and a half, Winnipeg discovered what it cost in terms of status and image, after it allowed its team to depart to the desert.

The city lost the team because the city fathers didnít have the foresight to build a new arena back when they needed one. It lost the team because the old money in Winnipeg (and back then Winnipeg was much more about old money than it is now) wouldnít step forward and buy the team when the Canadian dollar was worth 60-some cents US.

There are still people out there who figure somehow, some way, the NHL Board of Governors will, at the last minute, step in to stop this move.

Thereís no doubt many who believe itís going to be hard to sell tickets to a team from a city many American fans have never heard of before. (Thereís even the suggestion that the Oilers, Flames and Canucks arenít all that excited about Winnipeg being back, being theyíll have to divide up the Canadian pie. Winnipeg was part of the Edmonton and Calgary Rogers Sportsnet West audiences and it is the home of Vancouverís farm team.)

Americans not knowing where to put Winnipeg on a map didnít seem to cut into the crowds when Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson played for the Jets in the WHA.

What it does, is put the city back on the map.

Winnipeg wonít let NHL hockey go away again.

Itíll be the same story when the Quebec Nordiques are born again. Quebec City once lost their NHL hockey team. Once they get it back, theyíll never allow themselves to lose it again, either.

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