Happy returns for Semenko

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:35 AM ET

EDMONTON - Dave Semenko has some very fond memories of the Winnipeg Jets — like beating most of them up, for example.

Hey, what’s more heartwarming and nostalgic than punching somebody in the face under a giant portrait of the Queen?

Beating them up. Punting them out of the playoffs. Watching the Oilers run up ungodly goal totals on them. Beating them up some more. Ah, the good old days.

“I watched the Jets as a kid, sitting up the cheap seats at Winnipeg Arena, and then I ended up playing against them,” said the former heavyweight champion of the

National Hockey League, who’s glad to see his hometown back in The Show. “I have a lot of good memories in that building. It was unique; I liked it. It certainly wouldn’t work today but back then it was nice.”

The death of Atlanta signals a failure on the NHL’s part to grow the game in the Southern United States, and that’s a tough pill for the league office to swallow, but a lot of old school guys like Semenko are glad to see the NHL in a place where hockey is a religion, not a curiosity.

“I believe there should be a couple more teams in Canada. Quebec City, with that French Canadian market and Montreal rivalry is a natural. Bringing teams back to Canada makes sense.”

Semenko scouted in Atlanta and could tell right away they weren’t going to be in it very much longer.

“The 50-50 payout was $800. Ours in Edmonton is $30,000. It just wasn’t going to work down there, they had to leave, there wasn’t much of a choice.”

Winnipeg was more whipping post than rival — the Oilers and Jets met six times in the playoffs and Edmonton went 6-0, posting a 22-4 record and outscoring them 120-75 — but there were still some decent moments.

“They had some good teams but they always had to get by us,” said Semenko. “They had some talent on those teams, but between us and Calgary, that was a tough division to get out of.”

Despite being a born-and-bred Winnipegger, Semenko didn’t get much love when Edmonton visited the Jets. Seems breaking the home team’s faces doesn’t endear a player to the fans.

“I got more stuff thrown at me in that penalty box than anywhere else in the league,” he laughed. “None of my friends were throwing things, but everybody else, they didn’t care where I was from. They were nicer to me in Calgary than they were in that building.”

Having watched the NHL take hold in two cities close to his heart — the Jets and Oilers jumped from the WHA to the NHL at the same time — Semenko knows exactly what Winnipeg went through in 1996 and what they’re feeling right now.

“My dad is still there and I have brothers and cousins and friends there. I’m quite sure the city is extremely excited to get a team back. They supported the (AHL) Moose for a long time.

“How would Edmonton handle losing an NHL team and going to the American League? You’ve had the best hockey in the world for so many years, it’s tough to take a back seat.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

TWITTER.com/TYCHKOWSKI


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