My editor, an often-angry man who literally frothed at the corners of his mouth and unconsciously bulged his eyes when he wasn’t pleased, walked in and quickly showed me I was skating on thin ice.
“You have the Jets rally and that’s it,” he spat.
“This is a huge story.”
Of course, not knowing much about hockey and how its fans are so rabid and passionate they are willing to break with rules of good fashion and wear white pants in public, I argued a bit.
But the editor hurled a few profanities my way while shaking his head, apparently at the unfathomable reality he had actually hired this dopey scribe, and sent me kicking and screaming to the rally held as a last-ditch effort for a city desperate to keep its beloved sports team.
Prone to trying to put myself in the position of story subjects, I tried to grasp how so many would feel compelled to cram into the decrepit arena — teary-eyed and all — to chant like cult followers for, of all things, men on skates.
Certain it was nothing but a time-wasting exercise, I joined reporters standing on a wooden platform at centre ice while the lights dimmed.
The crowd, one minute obnoxious and utterly irritating in its loudness, hushed in an instant, becoming so quiet even a puck-drop could be heard.
Massive spotlights followed superstar stick-handlers onto the ice as they one-by-one made their arrival.
Some hoisted children on their shoulders, others shook their arms triumphantly in the air, and the arena shook.
As they chanted “Save Our Jets,” the vibrations ripped across the rink like an electrical current, finding its way from my feet into the depths of my skeptical grey matter.
I still knew nothing about the game and couldn’t care less about the all-Canadian pastime — but I could not deny the emotion of it all.
I think a tear escaped from my eye, quickly wiped away to maintain an objective reporter stance, only to be followed by a quiver of my betraying bottom lip.
My massive cellphone rang (it was early days for mobile phones,) and it was perhaps one of the team’s biggest fans — a diehard, longtime season-ticket holder who stayed until the end of every game, win or lose.
“Nadia, can you see me?” my father shouted as I scanned the crowd in utter disbelief.
“I’m wearing white.”
Yes, he was, head-to-toe, taking the team-colour dress code to extremes a la the Glad Man.
Needless to say, I did not spot him in the sea of white, where most were dressed in Jets jerseys and violently shaking pom-poms.
Instead, I found myself swept up in the excitement, the enthusiasm for a much-loved team and the display of solidarity to try to see them stay in a prairie town on the cusp of losing them.
And I understood why my grumpy editor insisted THIS was the story of the day.
Last week, 16 years later, I was back in my hometown when word came the city would again have a hockey team.
As citizens took to the streets to play hockey — mock fisticuffs and all — critics weighed in, already convinced the team wouldn’t get the support needed.
Others argued Winnipeg wouldn’t be attractive to big-time hockey heroes who could play in much more desirable U.S. and Canadian cities.
But in a city where there are still big, old trees and where a house costs much less than in bigger centres, there is a real sense of back-your-team community.
No doubt, time will prove critics wrong.
Yes, it is pitched into a deep freeze for nine months of the year, with mosquitoes — although their plague is exaggerated — making it their mecca for the other few.
But the hockey team moving from Atlanta to Manitoba will surely find an enviable fanbase and score big-time by choosing Winnipeg as its home.