Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Some fans boycotting NHL gear

No season? No new merchandise

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Winnipeggers love their Jets, but they are showing their team less love since the NHL lockout began 105 days ago.

Some hockey fans, upset about the lockout, have stopped opening their wallets.

Last year, Parker Stephenson, 22, decked himself out in Jets gear before every hockey game he attended. He dressed in hockey gloves and a jersey. Stephenson and his friends also wore aviator helmets and goggles to imitate jet pilots -- an homage to the team's name.

"I bought everything from local Jets stores," said Stephenson. "But I haven't bought any new Jets stuff since the lockout."

Stephenson said his decision to withhold from buying Winnipeg Jets products started when the NHL lockout began in September. Stephenson said he won't buy any Jets merchandise until an agreement is reached between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association.

"It started with a movement jump on Twitter for fans to 'lockout' the NHL and its sponsors," said Stephenson.

Zak Rubin, general manager at River City Sports in Winnipeg, said the last thing fans should do is boycott the NHL, including local Jets stores. Rubin believes Winnipeggers should support their team.

"It's a small market, we have our team," he said. "Otherwise there's a chance they could leave again."

Rubin says business skyrocketed after the Jets returned to Winnipeg in 2011, but has slowed down due to the lockout. Last year, Rubin said Winnipeggers were hyped about the NHL team and its new logo.

"It's impossible to compare business to last year, because it was the first year the Jets came back (after) 15 years," he said.

However, the drop in business isn't visible everywhere. Joseph Pat, assistant manager at Jets Gear, Authentic Pro Shop at the MTS Iceplex, says business hasn't been affected.

"It's still crazy because it's the NHL in Winnipeg," said Pat. "The Jets are still the Jets."

Scott Brown, spokesman for True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd., believes sales are promising and haven't been affected too much by the lockout.

"Sales have slowed down a bit, but they're still brisk," he said.

Jesse Pelletier, a Jets fan from Lorette, about 30 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg, hasn't bought any Jets gear since he attended one of their final games at the end of the 2011-12 season. "I don't want to support them if they're not going to support us by playing hockey," said Pelletier.

Pelletier went to 10 Jets games last year and always left with a souvenir.

"The last thing I ever bought was a hat at a game against the Rangers," said Pelletier. "At the game, everyone was there to have a good time and see the Jets win."

elizabeth.fraser@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2012 A8

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