RIM boss avoids the rush

ADAM WAZNY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

Without saying a word, Jim Balsillie extinguished any notion a former hockey team might find its way home soon.

Balsillie, the Research in Motion co-CEO who is currently engaged in a much-publicized court battle with the National Hockey League regarding the US$212.5 million purchase and subsequent relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes to southern Ontario, fielded business questions from students and faculty in a room packed with local media at the Asper School of Business yesterday.

Hockey questions need not apply, though.

The BlackBerry boss passed up on -- or wasn't interested in -- an opportunity to introduce himself to Winnipeg hockey fans by avoiding questions about the NHL and Winnipeg's chances in his hour-long presentation.

"Come on, guys," he said after one of the attempts.

Balsillie, named the recipient of the Asper school's 2009 International Distinguished Entrepreneur Award yesterday, is seeking to purchase the Coyotes out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy and move the team to Hamilton next season. On Monday, he filed an application for the relocation of the Coyotes with the league.

Last month, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league would prefer to have the struggling former Winnipeg Jets franchise return to Manitoba.

Twice faced with queries regarding the possibility of him bringing the Coyotes to Winnipeg (should an Arizona court grant him custody in the bankruptcy case), Balsillie laughed nervously and rolled his eyes, moving on by simply taking another question from the small gathering.

To be fair, the media invite issued by the University of Manitoba did indicate only questions relating to the award would be accepted.

Despite the elephant with the hockey stick in the room, students at the Asper School of Business thought Balsillie handled the situation well.

"I didn't think it was the time or place to talk about it," said Brian Ingram. "He's here to receive an award that has to do with business, so he's in the right to avoid the question. He's never once said he's going to move the team to Winnipeg ... why would he have to answer questions about something he's never said he's going to do?"

Justin Price agreed. He's a hockey fan but in his eyes, yesterday was business time.

"There's a respect issue there, too," he said. "I think he didn't want to disrespect (the Asper School of Business) by using this as an opportunity to talk about the NHL."


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