Good on the Coyotes

KIRK PENTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

The Phoenix Coyotes still love Winnipeg, because they keep coming back year after year.

Winnipeg, meanwhile, should continue to reciprocate.

The team formerly known as the Winnipeg Jets announced yesterday that it will host an NHL exhibition game at MTS Centre this fall for the third straight year.

The Wayne Gretzky-led Desert Dogs will meet the Calgary Flames on Wednesday, Sept. 24.

"You can't keep us away," Coyotes assistant GM Brad Treliving said yesterday from Glendale, Ariz. "The history of the franchise being there is something that we recognize and think is important."

Good on the Coyotes.

One colleague hinted yesterday that Phoenix returning to Winnipeg to play an exhibition game year after year was a slap in the face. Steal our team and then line your pockets with our hard-earned money, he sniffed.

Hogwash. While it's no secret that the Coyotes make money off this venture (so much so that in 2006 they reportedly covered the entire cost of their training camp), they should be praised for not forgetting from where they came.

They should also be thanked for giving us an NHL contest year after year, even if half of the talent on the ice ends up playing in the AHL the rest of the winter. The NHL isn't coming back to these parts anytime soon, so every taste we can get until then should be savoured.

September's tilt will be Winnipeg's fifth NHL exhibition game since 1997. The previous four attracted an average attendance of nearly 13,000, although last year's clash against the Toronto Maple Leafs didn't sell out.

This year's game should bring in a solid number of fans, considering the Flames, a team that hasn't been to Winnipeg since the Jets left, will serve as the opponent.

There will be a chance to catch Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf and Miikka Kiprusoff, or perhaps even Winnipeg's own Dustin Boyd, in action.

"Over the years it's a team that has developed a little bit of a following in this town," said Scott Brown of True North Sports and Entertainment.

There's an unwritten agreement that Gretzky and Calgary coach Mike Keenan will bring a healthy heaping of star power to the contest.

"And what's neat is that a year ago at that time, some of our players like Peter Mueller and Martin Hanzel, fans may not have known a lot about," he said. "Now those are up and coming names in our game."

Brown made it clear this isn't a test drive to see if the NHL can survive a return to Winnipeg.

"Three years ago we made a point of saying these games weren't about that issue," he said. "It's become more and more apparent that these games have very little to do with that issue. They're two really different things."

Sure, but it won't hurt if the place is packed. And it should be packed. The Coyotes appreciate the fact that we appreciate them. Treliving said rookies trying out for his team should play in a hockey-smart town like Winnipeg.

"It's a great hockey market," Treliving said. "They follow the game. It plays as a bit of a learning tool for our guys to be in hockey environments."

That, folks, is something we should be proud of and wear like a badge of honour. Gary Bettman can take away our team, but he can't take away our passion and knowledge of the game.

The Phoenix Coyotes recognize that. And they don't come here to get rich off our memories; they come here to make sure they never die.

For that, they should be supported.

Tickets are on sale now.

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WINNIPEG'S NHL EXHIBITIONS

at MTS Centre

Date Result Attendance

Sept. 19, 2007 Toronto 3, Phoenix 2 13,417

Sept. 17, 2006 Edmonton 5, Phoenix 0 15,015

at Winnipeg Arena

Sept. 11, 2003 Minnesota 1, Vancouver 0 10,214

Sept. 19, 2002 Vancouver 3, Edmonton 2 13,233


Photos