SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — You’d think it would be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, having the hockey team you work for ripped from its longtime home and hauled off to another country.
Former Winnipegger Mike O’Hearn is, as they say, experiencing deja vu all over again, this time through his son’s eyes.
And in reverse.
O’Hearn was the assistant general manager for the Winnipeg Jets when the team moved to Phoenix.
Now he runs a booming ice complex in nearby Scottsdale, while his son, Chris, works for the Coyotes, doing part of the same job, player contracts, O’Hearn did for the Jets.
“My son is torn a little bit, wondering what’s going to happen,” O’Hearn told Sun Media. “Going through a lot of the same things that I went through.”
Originally from Vancouver, O’Hearn had been in Winnipeg 13 years when he was forced to move his young family to the Sun Belt.
On the one hand, he was excited about the adventure. But he also saw what it did to the place he called home.
With the ongoing ownership crisis in Phoenix, those memories have been flooding back.
“We kind of went through two years of that,” O’Hearn recalled of the Jets saga. “There were many days we thought for sure we were staying. And then there’d be days where you thought it’s gone for sure.
“You see those clips of that last game in Winnipeg. That was gut-wrenching. I remember standing up in that press box, looking down at the fans... it was tough to think that was going to be the last game in there.”
O’Hearn doesn’t pretend the outpouring of emotion would be quite as widespread, here, if the Coyotes’ balloon is popped. But he says it wouldn’t be just a hiccup, either.
“The Jets were such a fabric of that community for so long. I don’t know if that’s a fair measurement,” he said. “But yes, there would be a lot of people that would really be upset with losing this team.”
He’d be one of them, which makes him a relative rarity: a Canadian who’d rather the franchise stayed put.
Not that he doesn’t want his old stomping grounds to get back in the big leagues.
O’Hearn says Mark Chipman and his True North Sports would make a great owner.
“I put 13 years into Winnipeg and it was home for me. It would be great. If they believe it can work, I hope they get it. I just don’t want it to be this team.
“I’m torn. Obviously, on one hand I really do want and believe Winnipeg will get a hockey team back again, and I imagine Quebec will get one as well. I’d like it not to be this particular franchise, for obvious reasons.”
If it is, O’Hearn is staying put this time. He’s not moving back. He does, after all, have a business to run.
His son, though, would be heading back home, in a way. To the place he attended his first school, met his first friends, fell in love with his first hockey team.
The Coyotes wouldn’t let Chris O’Hearn, now 29, talk about the potential move.
His dad, though, says he’d have mixed feelings. Leaving Phoenix would be tough, but he has fond memories of Winnipeg, too.
To go along with one not-so-fond memory.
The day, as a 14-year-old, he saw his team ripped from its home, and moved to a place a lot of people thought it would never make it.