Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fans get their wish

Support for 'Jets' guided decision

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ST. PAUL -- It is a name that has come to represent this city. Mention "Winnipeg Jets" to any hockey fan anywhere on this globe and, instantly, mental images start flickering of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, of Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne, of the Whiteout and of a tearful goodbye.

And, now, of a triumphant return.

True North Sports & Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman confirmed weeks of speculation Friday night at the NHL's entry draft when he stepped up to the podium at the XCel Energy Center to introduce general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff prior to the reborn Jets' historic first draft pick. And while they carefully considered other options, the overwhelming fan support for the Jets name ultimately helped confirm their decision.

"We listened to a lot of people. Certainly the fans, that was obvious," Chipman said. "Although I was overwhelmed by the number of unsolicited suggestions, a lot of them very good, and thought we had to go in a different direction. But we talked to our scouts at dinner (Thursday) night and the kids that were interviewed this year all wanted to know what the name of the team was going to be. And there was a strong preference (for Jets).

"I talked to family, I talked to close friends, guys I grew up playing hockey with... just trying to get an authentic feel for what the right thing to do would be. And in the end it just kept coming to that name."

Chipman said the decision wasn't official until this week when "it became absolutely clear to me that it was the right thing to do."

And when he came to the site of the draft prior to Friday's first round and spotted fans in their Jets jerseys before taking to the stage, he got goosebumps.

"I saw people coming out to the rink earlier today (in Jets jerseys)... there's obviously a lot of excitement about that name and it made us feel real good about this," he said.

"(Onstage) I was just trying to keep my knees from going out from under me. That's a daunting experience, being up there in front of that many people and on TV and knowing how important the name was to so many people. It's humbling. I gotta tell you it's really, really humbling to be able to utter those words."

Chipman said this wasn't as much a slam dunk as so many would believe. True North also wrestled with the idea of using Manitoba instead of Winnipeg but, again, history was a critical factor.

"We considered a lot of names, we really did," Chipman said. "We felt strongly about 'Manitoba' in a number of different scenarios and carried that name for the past 15 years and were very proud of the name we had and the success we had. But, again, Winnipeg Jets has got so much equity in it, well-deserved equity, it just seemed right to take it forward and not mess around with taking forward in its original form."

The team will sport a different logo and colours, however, and Chipman said the new look likely won't be unveiled for quite some time -- perhaps not until late summer.

"We're learning as we go that there are some commercial aspects to this," he said. "We would have loved to have had a prototype out there tonight but the concern was that it would be knocked off pretty quickly and sold in inappropriate ways. We're going to respect the league's rules and guidance on this. I would guess it's going to be quite some time.

"We've begun to do that work (on the logo) and I can tell you it will be a very, very different look than what we had back in '96."

The first captain of the Winnipeg Jets is on board with the resurrection of the team's moniker.

Ab McDonald, who finished off his hockey career with the World Hockey Association Jets after 15 years in the NHL, said he's happy with True North's choice.

"Anybody who played with the Jets would be happy to see the name come back again," he said. "I was devastated when they left in 1996 and I'm so pleased that they're back in 2011. It's what we want in Winnipeg."

Jordy Douglas, who played for the NHL Jets in the 1980s and is the president of the Winnipeg Jets Alumni & Friends, said he is also happy with the choice.

"There's nowhere in the world that the Winnipeg Jets brand isn't known. The team has been gone for 15 years but it's never been forgotten. With that brand, True North isn't starting at the gate, they're so far down the track," he said.

True North Sports & Entertainment has done the right thing in reviving the Winnipeg Jets brand, according to a pair of city marketing experts.

Peter George, CEO of McKim Cringan George, said he wasn't surprised everything old is new again in Winnipeg hockey. He said True North's Chipman has long been a populist. He revised the original design of the MTS Centre when an outcry complained the new arena's look wouldn't be in keeping with the history of the old Eaton's building.

"And they also put the statue of Timothy Eaton on the second floor so people can still go rub his shoe," George said. "True North has always been very savvy in terms of being in touch with their fans and playing to the popular demands."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2011 0

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