Money men ready to get into game

ROSS ROMANIUK -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

It hasn't taken a shot at landing a post-Jets NHL franchise, though Winnipeg's business community says that goal is possible.

Several of the 'Peg's biggest financial players say they're willing to seriously talk about forming an ownership group to pursue the Pittsburgh Penguins or other NHL club that might want to move to Manitoba.

The optimism -- while cautious -- emerged yesterday when Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports & Entertainment, said he'll inquire about the Pens that have hit the market.

"I've heard from several money people that they would clearly be interested in supporting this," Charlie Spiring, CEO of Wellington West Capital Inc., told the Sun.

A new $133-million arena and the NHL's reduced payrolls, he added, have made the dream more realistic.

"The success of MTS Centre has clearly made it look like something we can do. And the new NHL contract has brought us within spitting distance of financial reality."

David Asper, executive vice-president of CanWest Global Communications Corp., was more blunt about his interest.

"I'll give you one quick comment -- Mark has got my number," Asper said of Chipman during a quick break from business.

Any private-sector push for a franchise, however, shouldn't count on city hall's help -- at least not initially. Mayor Sam Katz stressed that a pursuit of a National Hockey League team must remain "obviously a private-sector initiative" after the city poured $13.5 million into MTS Centre's construction.

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce is willing to "try to mobilize the private sector around an initiative like this," said president Dave Angus, though he added the feasibility must be certain.

"There's huge interest in looking at it," Angus said. "We're a hockey city, and it's a sport that will draw some investment and draw attendance."


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