SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers, Bolts tough sell

KEN WIEBE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

So it has come to our attention that tickets aren't exactly being gobbled up at record pace for tonight's NHL pre-season tilt between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Edmonton Oilers.

Barring an extraordinary walk-up on what figures to be a beautiful evening, it won't be anything close to a sellout at the MTS Centre for puck-drop.

Are we shocked that less than 10,000 tickets have been sold?

Not even surprised in the least, to be brutally honest.

Interest in the NHL pre-season games has been waning the past few falls and that makes perfect sense.

While we applaud the Lightning for making the commitment to dress star talents like Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, young stud Steven Stamkos and former Vancouver Canucks blue-liner Mattias Ohlund, the fact of the matter is that the game is merely a pre-season game.

Yes, it's an NHL pre-season game, not an American Hockey League game but it will still feature many prospects who will spend the bulk of the season in the minors.

And it's not like this city is starved for hockey either.

Remember, the most recent AHL season only ended on June 12 after the Manitoba Moose ended up coming within two games of winning a first Calder Cup title.

For those who may have forgotten, the atmosphere for most of the post-season and specifically, the Calder Cup final, was electric throughout.

Before the nervous nellies begin to rant about how this is a sure sign Winnipeg can't support an NHL team, put a sock in it.

This pre-season tilt has never -- and will never -- be a referendum on whether or not the MTS Centre could one-day hold an NHL tenant.

That's a debate for another day and the answer isn't as clear as some believe.

However, the topic at hand is the NHL pre-season and we're here to suggest that there's only one way to make it work going forward and that's to make the parent club of the Moose the home team.

That's right, the only way this concept survives is if you bring the Canucks into the mix.

Make sure you play franchise goalie Roberto Luongo for at least half the game and ensure several Moose graduates who have risen to prominence like Alexandre Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler are in the lineup.

We understand the costs involved and that it makes far more sense for Vancouver to play pre-season games at GM Place or in one of the surrounding B.C. cities where rabid Canucks fans are located.

We also figure there is little to no chance the Canucks will come to Winnipeg for a mini-camp like they did back in 2003 before facing the Minnesota Wild.

However, coming to Winnipeg for one pre-season game would be a great goodwill gesture and allow hockey fans here to once again watch some of the players they once cheered for and moved on to the next level.

Although some hardcore Winnipeg hockey fans might never acknowledge the connection with the Canucks, as more and more Moose players graduate to the NHL, the synergy is going to strengthen.

What better way to foster that relationship than to play at a game inside the MTS Centre?

The opponent for that game, should this plan together, will likely have to rotate but two clubs with local connections immediately come to mind.

Take your pick between the Chicago Blackhawks and Calgary Flames for next September.

Both are heated rivals of the Canucks and feature prominent Manitobans sprinkled throughout the roster.

If the combination of top-end Canucks and the likes of Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Cam Barker with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane or Nigel Dawes and Dustin Boyd with Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf and Jay Bouwmeester can't fill up the place for an NHL pre-season game, then nothing will.

ken.wiebe@sunmedia.ca


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