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Pre-ice prep keeps Jets' staff busy

Bringing the NHL to the 'Peg is more than just buying a team

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The Winnipeg Jets are taking the 100-day challenge.

The newest NHL franchise has made a number of high-profile moves in the last couple of weeks, including announcing the purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers, the hiring of a coach and general manager, the resurrection of the Winnipeg Jets moniker and picking players in last week's amateur draft.

But the team's to-do list is far from finished. In fact, in many ways, the team's brass has just begun. The kinds of tasks that need to be done, however, don't scream front-page news, but they are critical to the team's operations nonetheless.

The time pressures of getting a team off the ground are considerably less with expansion franchises, which typically have several years to get organized before their first official face-off.

The Minnesota Wild, for example, had three years to get ready. The NHL awarded the franchise in 1997 but its first game didn't take place until 2000.

"It's a little mind-boggling what the Jets have to do," said Aaron Sickman, spokesman for the Wild.

Let's start with the small stuff. Business cards and stationary need to be ordered and some email addresses will have to be changed to reflect the new team. Monitoring a website and providing content to it is a far larger job in The Show than it is in the AHL, too.

Scott Brown, director of corporate communications for the Winnipeg Jets, said the team's brain trust preferred not to get into the details of what their summer is going to look like.

When it was suggested the amount of work might require 16-hour work days, he replied, "Some people are working more than that."

"Nobody should feel sorry for us. These are just things we have to do," he said.

Next on the docket is scheduling appointments with season-ticket holders to pick out their seats. Brown said people in each price category have already received one email from the team and can pick a time to come down to the MTS Centre after they receive a second one.

Season-ticket holders in P5 in the upper bowl were the first to come in on Monday. True North is starting with the upper bowl due to some bookings in the building that have made the lower bowl temporarily inaccessible.

None of that will affect the seat-selection process in the P1-P4 categories, Brown said.

"People can only buy in their price range. We want to have the process finished by mid-August," he said.

Now that all the anxiety over the team's name is subsiding, True North Sports & Entertainment is turning its attention to the new logo, uniforms and merchandise it will sell at its own retail outlets and will make available to sports stores around the city, the country and the world.

"A lot of work has to do with the logo. You want to brand the building and brand the mark. You want the colour scheme for your mark to be everywhere in your locker-room," Sickman said.

The branding also extends to the players. The team can't have pictures of its players still wearing Atlanta Thrashers jerseys, can it? These pictures will also be used in the team's media guide, which will be distributed to reporters around the league, too.

Much has been made of True North's renovations to the press box at the MTS Centre but the changes are happening for good reason. First, there is considerably more media attention for NHL teams, including beat writers who follow their teams on the road, than there is in the AHL. Plus every team does radio and television broadcasts of away games and needs to have the appropriate booths.

AHL teams typically fly on commercial flights but that changes with the jump to the NHL. The Jets will have to find a carrier to provide charter service. It will also have to find hotels in NHL cities.

Hockey players need gear, too. Equipment managers have to co-ordinate with the players and manufacturers of skates, helmets, shoulder pads and sticks to make sure every locker is properly stocked prior to training camp. It's not as easy as calling up Nike and ordering up a few dozen pairs of elbow pads because some players have contracts with specific manufacturers to use their gear.

Uprooting all the players and people in hockey operations and team services who will make the move to Winnipeg requires realtors and moving companies. There's also the matter of passports and other travel documents for getting family members out of Europe, Scandinavia and the United States and into Canada.

Language isn't as big a deal as it used to be as more and more foreign players speak English, but translators may be needed to help some players adjust to the new environment, too, Sickman said.

"It's becoming less common but it still does happen," he said.


Thanks to the Manitoba Moose, the jump to the NHL will be relatively smooth for True North because it has long operated its team as if it was an NHL franchise.

That means staff is already in place in most areas. Still, it's likely some additional positions will need to be filled.

"Staffing is huge," said Minnesota Wild spokesman Aaron Sickman. "You need to get the right people in place with the right experience. The more people you have in place that you have confidence in, the better."

The Wild, for example, needed to hire an intern for media relations. In less than a week, it received more than 300 applications.

"I'm sure there will be hundreds of people who will want to work for the new team in Winnipeg. The problem is it takes time to go through the process and get the best candidates. True North knows hockey and what it's about. Everything will be ramped up a little more now that it's the NHL," Sickman said.

It also helps that the MTS Centre only recently lost that new-building smell and has hosted numerous major events, both sporting and otherwise.

"The Wild had to get our building (built). That part of it will be fine for Winnipeg," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2011 A4

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