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Portage and Main reopens after NHL kickoff

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WINNIPEG - Portage Avenue and Main Street have reopened to traffic as NHL fans drift from the city's marquee intersection to The Forks to continue celebrations of the league's return.

About 1000 people were gathered at Portage and Main during the event's peak late Tuesday morning, but most left after the press conference ended.

Dozens stood behind the intersection's concrete barricades, while many more watched the NHL's press conference on the big screen at the small park formerly known as Canwest Place.

After a morning of honks and hoots, the crowd stood silent as the press conference began.

True North head Mark Chipman got a huge round of applause, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman got a loud, sustained boo and Premier Greg Selinger may have earned the warmest applause of his career.

Crowds stood on planters or perched atop the median and Starbucks handed out small white chocolate lattes. Fans struggled against the wind and the spitting rain to hold up a banner reading "A whiteout can fix any mistake. Go Jets Go."

After the press conference ended, many office staff returned to work, leaving a relatively small crowd gathered at the intersection, watching kids, young adults and even a couple of gentlemen with gray hair play a game of street hockey.

One fan sported a spikey white wig and most are wearing their Jets paraphernalia. As businessmen on smoke breaks looked on, motorists honked at the group of fans in front of the Bank of Montreal standing on the World War 1 statue.

"It's the Jets, man, nothing bigger than the jets," said Cassidy Dankochik, 18, who took the day off from his job at Gimli's  New Iceland Heritage Museum. "The Jets come back and Vancouver wins the cup all in one year and we can hate each other next year!"

Two longtime fans, JP Jamieson and Neal Einarson, plunked two old, red metal chairs from the Winnipeg Arena down at Portage and Main to celebrate early today.

When the Jets left in 1996, they spent years arguing over which team to cheer for. Einarson chose the Minnesota Wild and Jamieson chose pretty much any othe Canadian team, even though he'd spent his boyhood hating the Oilers, the Flames and any other Winnipeg rivals.

"Not having a team to cheer for for years killed me," said Einarson.

Being known as the city with only a Vancouver farm team was a psycological wound for the city.

"We were as bad as Regina or Saskatoon," said Jamieson.

The duo said they hoped and expected the new Jets would attract a certain kind of player, one more intersted in the craft of hockey and winning games than being a millionaire party boy.

"If they want to go clubbing, Winnipeg isn't exactly the place," joked Jamieson, who is on summer break from a teaching job in China.

The duo are chipping in for season tickets with two other friends and hope Winnipeggers do the same.  Just as Atlanta has now twice lost an NHL team, Winnipeg could, too.

"I hope we are smart enough not to let it happen again," said Jamieson. "In five years, we could be in the same spot."

Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen said the force's crowd-management team will not tolerate criminal activity like property damage at the celebrations.

"We're encouraging people to attend to the Forks for the celebration, not Portage and Main. For safety concerns and just practicality, Portage and Main is not the best place for that," said Michalyshen.

He said there are uniform members who could be sent to various locations in response to the celebrations. Police could also ticket people who commit infractions under the Liquor Control Act and Highway Traffic Act, said Michalyshen.

"This is about public safety, we don't want to damper any celebrations but we're not going to be tolerating any criminal activity of any kind, and those individuals will be swiftly dealt with."

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Updated on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 10:03 AM CDT: Adds quote.

1:12 PM: Updated

1:28 PM: Updated.

2:10 PM: Intersection reopens

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