Welcome to the new era

Paul Friesen, Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 4:18 AM ET

Well, well, look who's back in town. How about a big, warm Winnipeg welcome for the NHL.

It's great to have you back, fellas. Been, what, 15 years? Geez, time flies when you're not having so much fun.

Actually, I shouldn't say that. We've done all right without you.

Oh, it was tough for a while. But we learned to adjust. Got our big-league hockey fix on the old boob tube.

Not the same as being there in person, though, and I think I speak for fans from Transcona to Thompson when I say we're looking forward to opening night, 2011.

You should know, though, we've changed a bit since you were last here. Allow me to fill you in.

The first thing you'll notice is the old rink is gone, replaced by a nice little facility along Portage Avenue, downtown.

No, it's not any bigger than the old Winnipeg Arena. We're still at a relatively small 15,000 seats, and change.

But that's where the similarities end.

Your home room, for instance, is pretty sweet, bigger than many in the league, and just as comfortable. Yes, our American League team had it pretty good.

Acoustics, electronics, concessions -- all top-notch, unlike the old barn. You'll probably notice the fans aren't right on top of you like they were. Those steep upper decks were crazy, weren't they?

But unlike where you've been playing, I can guarantee you the seats will be full. Every one of 'em. This season, at least, probably next, too.

Yeah, Canada has gone hockey crazy in the last decade, and Winnipeg is no exception.

It's not all sunshine and popsicles, though.

You'll notice we've still got more than our share of poverty, and our downtown is no shining example to inner-city rejuvenation. The tall foreheads who run this place continue to allow urban sprawl, doing little to fill the centre of the doughnut.

No doubt you'll be joining the thousands who commute from a comfortable suburb into the core, parking indoors and going to work without setting foot on our troubled sidewalks.

If you do venture out and are accosted by a panhandler, keep in mind they could be legit, and they could be a pawn for a street gang.

As for a sports pecking order, forward Paul Bissonnette was basically right: you will be gods here.

That doesn't mean you're the only game in town. Our football team has a long, storied history and will grab its share of headlines, assuming it becomes competitive again.

Come to think of it, maybe your presence will push the Blue Bombers a bit. No longer can they expect to get the lion's share of attention, simply by default. From now on, they'll have to earn it.

As for what kind of team we appreciate, well, that's a tricky one.

You may not know this, but our town was instrumental in the addition of the European style to the game. That's right, we were the first to rely heavily on Swedes back when the WHA went head to head with the NHL.

But that doesn't mean we don't like our hockey blue-collar Canadian.

In fact, I'd venture a guess that a hardworking, smash-mouth style, even if it's a little heavy on the dump-and-chase, would go over just fine. Besides, that might be all this organization can afford. Or wants to afford.

That billionaire owner you've heard about?

I'm not sure I'd count on him making you the highest paid team in the league, or anything even close. The guy's serious about art collections, not hockey.

And while he may be there as a backstop in tough times, I can't see him exchanging financial fisticuffs with Detroit's Mike Ilitch anytime soon.

I'm thinking you'll be middle of the pack, at best, as far as payroll goes.

If you're middle of the pack in the standings, you'll do just fine, here. Especially during the honeymoon, which will last a couple of years.

After a while, though, you'll find we're like most places not named Toronto: the more you win, the more we don't mind paying for your crazy salaries.

Miss the playoffs too many times, like you used to do in your old home, and you may begin to hear it from us.

Don't take it personally, though. We simply know bad hockey when we see it.

But an honest day's work goes a long way, here. Remember that, and you'll be fine.

Oh, and one last thing.

That giant portrait of the Queen is gone.

It's a new era.

Long live the NHL.

 


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