Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hockey fans' jets burning hot

Selinger coy but hopes high that city will get the Thrashers

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On the matter of NHL hockey returning to Winnipeg, True North's lips were sealed on Friday.

Pundits' lips flapped.

But the premier's? His were pulled into a sly smirk.

"I think Tuesday could be an interesting day," Premier Greg Selinger told a crowd of reporters outside the legislature after a press conference thanking the military for its help in the flood fight.

Tuesday, of course, is the day True North Sports and Entertainment and the NHL will announce the Atlanta Thrashers will move into new digs at the MTS Centre, according to a Globe and Mail report.

And it's a day that could see Selinger standing next to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to deliver the big news.

But the premier shied away from giving more details than the little tease. He said the province, which will help ease the debt on the arena to help free cash for True North to buy the Thrashers, and the Mark Chipman-led buyer group were "taking a very sensible approach."

"Let's not jump the gun," Selinger said, noting he was "totally excited" about a possible return of the NHL to the city. "Let's make sure we've got the ink dry."

Too late. On Friday night, 24 hours after an impromptu street party took over Portage and Main, Jets fans crowded city sports bars to cheer as the Vancouver Canucks faced the San Jose Sharks -- and swoon over just how interesting Tuesday might be.

"I'm so WOOOOOOO that the Jets might be coming back," raved Viola Bauer, decked out in a blue Teemu Selanne Jets jersey and quaffing pint-size libations at the 4Play sports bar on Portage Avenue.

Though Bauer couldn't make it to Thursday night's shenanigans at Portage and Main, she already has a plan for Tuesday, if it indeed goes fans' way: A local henna artist has agreed to give her a body-paint job to look like a Jets jersey, which she plans to take to the inevitable downtown hootenanny.

As for the question of the day -- will Winnipeggers open their wallets enough to keep the team in town this time? -- Bauer's friend, Nikki Fuhro, made a sage observation.

"If Winnipeg paid for the Bombers to stick around after the crap they've been through, then they're definitely paying for this team," she said.

Winnipeg sports fans weren't alone in the buzz. Even the mayor of Quebec City was excited Friday.

Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume said the return of an NHL franchise to Winnipeg is good news and opens the door to the transfer of a professional hockey team to his city.

"Today, we should be thrilled," Labeaume told reporters. "The best thing that could happen to us is to see Winnipeg get its team. Usually, we could be next on the list."

Quebec City was home to the NHL's Nordiques until they moved to Colorado in 1995.

Meanwhile, as news from the hyper-driven rumour mill sank in, many city fans turned their attention to a simple and familiar hope for Tuesday's announcement.

"If they call it the Winnipeg Spirit, I'm not buying tickets," Sean Kirady joked at 4Play, while he contemplated a pro-hockey future right across the street.

"It's gotta be the Jets."

 

-- With files from Postmedia News

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 21, 2011 A3

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