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Katz leads conga line through The Forks

WINNIPEG - Thousands of hockey faithful streamed into The Forks Tuesday, wearing the Jets' red, white and blue, gathering under the canopy for the live announcement of the NHL's return to the city.

Hundreds of people were gathered at The Forks by 10:30 a.m., the crowd growing to 5,000 by the time True North's Mark Chipman made his announcement that his organization had purchased the Atlanta Thrashers.

Hundreds of Jets fans scream under the canopy at The Forks to celebrate the return of the NHL.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Hundreds of Jets fans scream under the canopy at The Forks to celebrate the return of the NHL. Photo Store

Winnipeg hockey supporters get in on some street hockey action at The Forks early Tuesday May 31, 2011 prior to the True North Sports & Entertainment news conference.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg hockey supporters get in on some street hockey action at The Forks early Tuesday May 31, 2011 prior to the True North Sports & Entertainment news conference.

Event organizers blasted Elton John's Bennie and the Jets as the crowd assembled, with so many people at The Forks that they were filling up the upper area in front of the Johnston Terminal and the stairs behind.

Many of them are yelling and holding up a special Free Press page saying "Welcome Back," and the crowd is chanting "Go Jets Go!"

The crowd went silent while listening to Chipman live from MTS Centre, but broke into cheering and chanting "Let's go, Jets!" when he made the official announcement. The crowd booed when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's name was mentioned. 

After holding off, the skies opened up with rain about 11:40 a.m. -- but it didn't dampening anyone's spirit at The Forks.

Around 1:30 p.m., Mayor Sam Katz led his promised conga line through The Forks with former Jet Thomas Steen.

"I think it will be fantastic for our city," Steen said. "There are a lot of hockey fans here who haven't seen the NHL before."

"I'm ready to dance," shouted a jubilant Dancing Gabe. "It's going to be the greatest day in Winnipeg sports history."

"We are ready to party!" yelled Braden Hill sporting a Winnipeg Jets jersey, a red Bauer hockey helmet, a Canada flag cape, and a blue horn. "It has been a long time."

Giulia Deleo, a personal trainer, cancelled all of her clients today. "They all understand," said Deleo. "I don't want to work today."

Former NHL players Ab McDonald and Billy Lesuk also said they were all excited.

"I think its a great day for the city," McDonald said. "What makes this so sweet is we remember when we lost the team," Lesuk said.

"It was tough -- but it is sweet now," McDonald added.

Tory leader Hugh McFadyen said the league's return is the best birthday present he could get.

"There were a lot of naysayers back in 2007 - I'm glad they are being proven wrong today."

The Forks spokesman Paul Jordan the site is ready to party. Speeches and music will follow the televised news conference, and the party will be on.

As for the duration of the event, well...."We're just going to go until it seems like a good time to stop," he said.

Jordan said he has a roster of at least a half-dozen local bands mustering to entertain NHL-giddy revelers, including The Pumps/Orphan, which performed at the Save-the-Jets rally in 1996.

"I think there's a nice bit of closure there," said Jordan.

Jordan said The Forks is ready regardless of how today's wet weather affects the crowd.

"We're preparing for 500 people, and we're preparing for 10,000 people," he said. "We've had lots of events that have been affected by bad weather; sometimes it affects the crowd, other times it doesn't."

History

Updated on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 10:24 AM CDT: Adds comment from former Jets.

1:49 PM: Updated

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