Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

He kept seats warm, now they're a hot commodity

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It was upon returning home Tuesday night from watching all those young men in Jets sweaters roaming the city streets like hockey fans back from the dead that I decided to call the granddaddy of all Winnipeg zombies.

My neighbour, Garry Pestaluky.

Garry is not only one of Winnipeg's typically friendly guys next door, he's also one of the most loyal hockey fans in one of the world's great hockey cities; never mind that on the day the Thrashers became The Team To Be Named Later, one angry, poor sport of an Atlanta newspaper columnist sneeringly referred to Winnipeg as a "Canadian outpost."

But I wanted to tell you about Garry.

What sets him apart -- what puts him in a rare place among the most loyal and smartest of Winnipeg hockey fans -- is his season-ticket history.

Garry owns Hi-Tech Sales Ltd., which, by coincidence, supplied conduit for the construction of the MTS Centre. And it's through his business, and the company he worked for back in the early 1970s, that Garry has held a pair of professional hockey season tickets for nearly 40 years. From the Winnipeg Jets' first game in the World Hockey Association to their last in the NHL, and then through the Moose years in the International and American leagues.

Even though he hasn't been to a game himself in two years, Garry continued to buy Moose tickets in anticipation of the day when the NHL returned to Winnipeg. Believing that when that day came he would be able to retain his choice location in Section 106, 14 rows up at the blue-line.

"I wanted my seats," Garry said.

That one day finally arrived Tuesday. It was at 12:06 p.m. -- less than an hour after the start of True North Sports & Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman's announcement of the purchase of the Atlanta franchise -- that an email arrived on Garry's BlackBerry.

With it came instructions.

Garry was told that at 4 p.m. Wednesday he could use his Moose account number and a supplied password to put down a $1,000 deposit (per ticket) on a five-year commitment. Price tag: $11,610.

Given what he thought he might have to pay, the $129 top ticket was a pleasant surprise. He was expecting $200. And a couple of weekends ago he was parked in his driveway telling me he didn't know if he could justify tickets that cost that much, even given how he'd invested in the wait. But Garry was in for another pleasant surprise.

As one of the more than 2,000 Moose season-ticket holders, he not only got to go to the front of the line, he was also in line for a bonus. A chance to lay claim to two more tickets, for a total of four. If he'd had six Moose season tickets, he could have made it 12. And he probably could have sold all 12 if he had them because even before the team purchase was formalized, Garry says about a dozen people contacted him wanting to buy a share of his original two seats.

So what is he going to do?

Well, he plans to take tickets for 15 games for himself and then sell the rest to some of the people who've suddenly become his best friends.

The other two seats, the bonus pair, he'll let family buy.

What concerns Garry, though, is all those young hockey zombies who could end up disappointed, still wandering the streets outside the MTS Centre. Like the guys he saw at the Polo Park Joey's at lunch on Tuesday, all wearing their Jets sweaters, and talking on their cellphones to pals about buying season tickets.

Garry worries a lot of them might be dreaming, and by the time they wake up next week all the Drive to 13,000 season tickets will be gone. And all those enthusiastic young fans will be left dealing with scalpers or scrambling for some of the 2,000 tickets the team is keeping for single-game sales. True North spokesman Scott Brown didn't discount that quick season-ticket sellout scenario. But then why would he?

He told me Wednesday that if all the Moose season-ticket holders and corporate sponsors exercised their ticket options to the max, as many as 9,000 of the 13,000 could be gone by the time they go on general sale Saturday.

Whatever the number that are still available after the Moose faithful finish feasting, chances are an online frenzy could follow, the kind that concertgoers have become conditioned to expect when a big act hits town. And the acts don't come any bigger in these parts than the return of The Team To Be Named Later.

It's all about hope, hype, supply and demand and a building that enhances all of the above. True North officials knew what they were doing when the MTS Centre was built to be the NHL's smallest rink, in the NHL's smallest market. But then so did Garry Pestaluky, the man who helped them build it. And the fan who kept his seats warm all those years -- believing that one day they'd be hot again.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 2, 2011 B1

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