Jets' return 'exhilirating, exhausting'

TED WYMAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:30 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Mark Chipman spent a good chunk of the last decade trying to get Winnipeg its NHL team back and starting this weekend he’ll begin to truly see the fruits of his labours.

The Jets opened training camp with medicals and physicals Friday and will begin practices Saturday morning at the MTS IcePlex, giving fans, media and even team owners and management their first chance to see what $170 million dollars will buy you these days.

But when the Winnipeg Jets 2.0 take the ice for their first exhibition game on Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets at MTS Centre, the very person who put the most time and money into getting Winnipeg its NHL team back will not in the building.

Instead, Chipman will be at an NHL Board of Governors meeting in New York.

“It’s going to be fun, but ironically I have to miss our first game,” Chipman said. “But just being around the team is good enough for me. Just being around the guys, and getting to know them a bit, and watching them on the ice this weekend will be really fun.”

He downplays it by saying it will be “fun,” but it’s hard to imagine he won’t be watching with the kind of pride a parent feels when watching a child take its first steps.

This is something he has lived and breathed for years, starting with True North Sports and Entertainment’s pursuit of the Phoenix Coyotes, moving to a new level with the purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers May 31 and hitting the heights with the return of the Jets name, the NHL draft, the unveiling of a new logo and jerseys and finally the arrival of the players.

The amount of work the organization has put in since May 31 is astounding and it’s hardly finished yet.

Workers are still putting the finishing touches on renovations to MTS Centre — in fact Friday’s press conferences were conducted in a press centre that was mostly completed on Thursday and still didn’t have a door — and you get the sense the paint will still be drying when the puck drops for the home opener on Oct. 9.

“It has been a lot of work for a lot of people,” Chipman said. “It’s been fun to be a part of it. It’s been exhilarating at times, it’s been exhausting at times.

“We’re just so thrilled to be doing it and I haven’t run in to anybody who has felt sorry for people that get into this business. So we’re just happy to be coming around the corner and getting ready to play because that’s what it’s all about. We can’t wait to get going.”

Jets coach Claude Noel shares Chipman’s eagerness to get going, especially since this is his first official season as an NHL head coach.

Hired just before the NHL Draft in June, Noel has had a relatively short time period to get ready, though it helped that he was already in Winnipeg after coaching the Manitoba Moose last season.

“We’ve had to build two teams in 106 days so it’s been really busy,” Noel said. “We’ve had a lot of newness all over the place, even the building and the locker-room and a lot of other stuff is not completely finished yet but that’s just what you deal with.”

Some members of the organization admit there were times when it seemed like it wouldn’t all get done, that the time frame was too short, the list of projects too daunting.

“It was a matter of putting your head down and getting it done,” Jets communications director Scott Brown said.

Winnipeg fans will be happy if the hockey team takes that kind of approach as well.


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