May 15, 2012
Coyotes dreaming in WinnipegPhoenix's playoff run has people here thinking about what might have been
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - It was one year ago that Winnipeg's NHL fate lay in the hands of city councillors in Glendale, Ariz.
Faced with covering $25 million in losses for the Phoenix Coyotes for a second straight season or else lose the team, politicians voted 5-2 in favour of the deal.
Immediately, NHL boss Gary Bettman gave Winnipeg's Mark Chipman his blessing to write a cheque for the Atlanta Thrashers.
But had the Glendale vote gone the other way, Bettman would have turned to Chipman and said, "Let's make a deal" — in the desert.
We can't help but wonder, what if two more councillors had voted no — what would Winnipeg look like today?
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It's a beautiful week in Winnipeg, clear skies and soaring temperatures.
Which is fitting, because the red-hot Kings are in town for Game 2 of their Western Conference Final against the new Jets, whose fans aren’t California dreaming, but Stanley Cup dreaming.
If you thought the city was abuzz with Jets fever during the season, you should see it now: “Run to the Cup” banners flap from lamp standards along Portage Avenue, shop windows are spray-painted with Jets colours and every other car, it seems, flies a Jets flag, sparking spontaneous outbursts of horn-honking, like the Mother of All Weddings.
Which is fitting, because this has been the perfect remarriage.
When the Phoenix Coyotes were no longer wanted down in the desert, Winnipeggers were only to happy to accept them back, 15 years after they’d left broken hearts strewn from Tyndall Park to Transcona.
And since the historic October 15 home opener, a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Thrashers, the Jets, V 2.0, have been winning back those hearts.
This fairy-tale reunion has made headlines across the country, where suddenly the Jets are Canada’s team.
Led by head coach Dave Tippett, nominated for a second coach-of-the-year award, the Jets captured the Pacific Division title and have advanced to the Conference Final for the first time in the franchise’s otherwise inglorious history.
A first-round upset over the Chicago Blackhawks pushed the rabid fan support to another level, as local hero Jonathan Toews, captain of the bad guys, was booed mercilessly in a series the Jets took in six.
In came Nashville, the pick of a few pundits to go all the way after some aggressive trade deadline moves.
But the Jets finished the Predators off in five, a shocking result that produced another memorable chapter in this spellbinding sequel.
The Preds suspended two of their better players for Game 3 after finding out they’d been at a Winnipeg bar the night before Game 2.
When word got out Alex Radulov and Sergei Kostitsyn had been carousing at the Palomino Club, it set up a scene in which the two were jeered mercilessly by Jets fans, some of them in full horse costume, in the decisive Game 5.
For every visiting bum, though, this story has a dozen hometown heroes, led by goaltender Mike Smith, who has been one of the finest in the playoffs.
Flanking Smith at the head table of the love-in are a mix of NHL veterans like Ray Whitney and up-and-coming stars such as Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, a 20-year-old Swede in the tradition of European excellence pioneered by the Jets of the old WHA.
But make no mistake, this is a blue-collar team in a blue-collar town, evidenced by the love for little-used scrapper Paul Bissonnette and even Raffi Torres, suspended for the rest of the playoffs and hated around the league but adored in his new home town.
Nothing written about the Jets can exclude the revered captain, Shane Doan, who’s toiled for the same franchise all these years, moved twice and is finally within reach of that elusive Cup.
A full 19 years since a Canadian team last won hockey’s holy grail, an entire country is reaching along with him.