Steen gets warm welcome

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

WINNIPEG -- Portage and Main, said to be winter's coldest corner in Canada, was a crossroad of a different kind for the Maple Leafs and Phoenix Coyotes last night.

There was Alex Steen, son of Jets legend Thomas Steen, playing at home. Though Steen's Swedish blood runs thick, he wears a tuque beneath his viking horns and has a son named Kingston. Steen the Younger received the kind of red-carpet reception Ringo Starr gets upon returning to Liverpool. The media mobbed him in the morning and all his public school pals came to the MTS Centre for the game, with his proud pop also in the stands.

"I grew up a Jets fan, but then they moved the team," Steen said of that dark day in 1996. "The people here switched to Toronto. I had dreamed of playing here, now I have another chance to fulfill that."

Steen barely was a teen when the Jets played their last game, but he would have seen Chad Kilger on the home team, the same Kilger who played on his wing last night. Kilger's 33-game stint isn't part of his career that he recalls too fondly, as he absorbed a few boos.

"I had just been traded from Anaheim for a fan favourite (Teemu Selanne) and everyone knew the team was leaving," Kilger said. "So it was very tough to be here at that time."

Steen also would have crossed paths with John Ferguson Jr., whose father was the Jets' general manager. John Jr. spent part of the late 1980s playing in the rough and tumble Manitoba Junior Hockey League, where legend has it he once traded slashes with future Leafs goalie Ed Belfour, from down the road in Carman.

The Jets and Leafs developed a hot rivalry and the late Fergie Sr. often could be seen, if not heard, punching the specially constructed dark plexiglass of his private box at the old Winnipeg Arena, no doubt imagining he was back in the Montreal Forum slugging Eddie Shack.

Leafs defenceman Ian White is also from Winnipeg.

There also were some familiar faces on the Coyotes side -- former Leafs backup goalie Mikael Tellqvist and defenceman Brendan Bell were to play tonight in Toronto. They were given up in trades that saw Ferguson acquire and then drop forwards Yanic Perreault and Tyson Nash.

FAMILIAR FACES

Athletic therapist Chris Broadhurst, who kept Wendel Clark's injury-plagued career on track and extended those of a few others in the Cliff Fletcher-Pat Burns era, now tends to the well-being of Wayne Gretzky's club.

Speaking of whom, last night was the first chance for Leafs coach Paul Maurice to match lines and one-liners with the hockey supremo. Maurice was raised in Sault Ste. Marie where Gretzky was a junior phenom, and he played junior with Wayne's brother, Keith.

Any National Hockey League team swinging through town likely could find some Winnipeg connections of its own. That leads to the obvious question of why the league has not returned to a city with a new rink, a long hockey history and passion for the game.

Sure, MTS holds just 15,300 fans, which is a few thousand less than most league venues. But even that number puts it ahead of weak American markets on some nights.

"I'd be excited about a team coming back," Kilger said. "Times have changed. The new CBA makes it easier on Canadian teams. Maybe it would work a second time."


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