Say it ain't so

ADAM CLAYTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

A decade ago, it would have been unthinkable for Winnipeg hockey fans to root for the Calgary Flames or Edmonton Oilers. Our beloved Jets were the sworn enemies of their two Smythe Division rivals.

But 10 years ago today, the Jets played their final game, a 4-1 playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings. And since then, many former fans have adopted one the club's former rivals as their favourite team.

During Calgary's Stanley Cup run two years ago, Flames merchandise was flying off the shelves in Winnipeg and across Canada. Rob Main, customer service manager at River City Sports on Henderson Highway, said Calgary's red home jersey remains their best-seller.

"You basically couldn't get them for months and months and we finally just started getting them in stock again," he said. "We can't keep them on the shelves."

Main said it's obvious both of Alberta's NHL teams enjoy widespread support in Winnipeg.

"It seems like everywhere I look in this city, someone's got an Oilers hat on. Both the Flames and Oilers are definitely popular," he said. "I couldn't say one is more popular than the other, but their support is rampant throughout the city."

Oilers fan Colin LeRoux, 29, said a lot of former Jets fans identify with the Flames and Oilers.

"They're Western Canadian, for one thing, and they're smaller markets," he said. "There are still a lot of diehard fans of Montreal or Toronto, they will always be there. But if you're talking about the younger generation, you see more people adopting Edmonton or Calgary."

Christopher Jenner, 9, is hoping his Calgary Flames will hoist the Stanley Cup this summer after losing to Tampa Bay by one goal in Game 7 of the NHL finals two years ago.

"I almost started crying," he said of the defeat.

Jenner wasn't even born when the Coyotes played their first regular season game in October 1996. Jenner said a lot of the kids he knows haven't heard of the Jets.

CARLYLE? STEEN?

"I know they were from Winnipeg and I know a couple of players," he said. "Thomas Steen. Randy Carlyle. That's about it."

Jason Krutish, who grew up following the Jets, said he could never bring himself to root for team's old Smythe Division foes.

"After cheering for Winnipeg your whole life, it's kind of hard to switch," he said. "It's always nice to see Canadian teams in the playoffs and the Cup finals but it's hard for me to cheer for those teams because they were rivals with Winnipeg back in the day."

Kirk Gusta, a Winnipeg university student, will be cheering for the Oilers and Flames during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"I like them both because of their work ethic," he said. "I like Calgary and I like Edmonton, too, because they're a hard-working team and they don't quit."

Gusta, who was once a devoted Jets fan, said he couldn't stand to watch NHL hockey for years after the Jets moved to Phoenix.

"I just seemed like after a while it was all clutch and grab. It wasn't even fun to watch," he said. "But I was mainly just disgusted with the economics of the NHL at the time."


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