Cherry picking 'Peg for team

ADAM WAZNY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

With an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Edmonton Oilers at the MTS Centre as the backdrop, Canadian broadcasting legend Don Cherry re-visited the idea of the National Hockey League returning to Winnipeg yesterday.

On a morning radio show, Cherry stated the Phoenix Coyotes -- the financially and attendance-strapped club that once skated here as the Jets -- will be on the MTS Centre ice for the 2010-11 season.

Later at city hall, where Cherry attended an event supporting Canada's Olympic and Paralympic athletes, the CBC personality continued to bang away in the corner on the topic, calling out not only those who disagree with the premise, but those growing tired of the subject.

"I was one of the guys who said when they left Colorado they will be back in Colorado and everybody laughed -- and they did come back," Cherry said yesterday. "This city will be the first city, that when one of those junk teams from Florida that can't draw, this will be the place they'll come. I guarantee it.

"They're not going to Hamilton because they're saving that for an expansion team."

Winnipeg would love to walk down the aisle with the NHL again but before the city wonders how far away the altar is, it might want to secure the engagement ring first.

Since the Coyotes bankruptcy situation came up, the city has been mentioned by a cast of thousands as a possible location to put the team, with even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman dangling the speculative carrot to local NHL fans.

When asked what he's basing his 2010-11 prediction on, Cherry didn't blink.

"I'm basing that on that people love it," the former Boston Bruins coach said. "I was here in the spring and all everybody talked about was the Jets. I see Jets hats, I see Jets T-shirts. They got a 15,000-seat arena. They didn't build that for the American Hockey League.

"What I say is the truth. That's what I base it on."

True North Sports and Entertainment, operators of the MTS Centre and the Manitoba Moose -- not to mention the starting point for an NHL return -- reserved comment on Cherry's comments.

Mayor Sam Katz said the city isn't hanging out the "NHL vacancy" sign at this point and hasn't been in recent contact with any NHL owners or cities about moving a team here.

"I would encourage any owner, whether you're in Florida or somewhere else in the southern U.S. and things aren't working, that Winnipeg is probably one of the best markets to consider," Katz said. "Never say never."

adam.wazny@sunmedia.ca


Photos