Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 06/17/2011 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Winnipeg was just a few minutes away from a hockey-mad celebration at Portage and Main last May.
If it weren't for the City of Glendale wiring $25 million to the NHL's offices 13 months ago, the Phoenix Coyotes would have been on their way back to the city they left in 1996.
That was just one of the behind-the-scenes secrets Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports & Entertainment, the owners of the city's new NHL team, let out of the bag at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday.
Chipman said he had prepared two versions of his speech. One included some unknown details of the negotiations for the Atlanta Thrashers, and the Phoenix Coyotes before that, and one without.
It wasn't until he received an email from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman Wednesday night with the message "go for it," that he printed off the juicier one.
"We literally came within 10 minutes of acquiring (the Coyotes) in May 2010 when the City of Glendale met a 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time deadline to wire the funds necessary to pay for the league's losses for the (2010-11) season," he told the crowd of more than 500 at the Fairmont hotel.
"We left somewhat disappointed but uplifted by the fact the league had taken us so seriously and, as a consequence, had indicated it would just be a matter of time before we would actually acquire a team," he said.
Chipman didn't mention Jim Balsillie by name, but he alluded to the founder of Research In Motion's attempts -- many of which ended up on newspaper front pages -- to buy a trio of NHL teams in recent years.
"We resolved that if we were really interested in pursuing this opportunity, our chances of success would be significantly heightened if we followed the NHL's lead and did so with an unwavering level of discretion and confidentiality. We had experienced first-hand the extraordinary disappointment that resulted when the Jets left in 1996 and we did not want to unnecessarily raise everyone's expectations when we knew quite possibly that we might not succeed," he said.
Chipman went into some detail about how he forged a friendship with Bettman over the past decade and what a straight shooter Bettman was throughout the entire process.
"Hopefully, when he comes here this fall (for the still-unnamed team's home opener), he gets a much warmer welcome than he got (Wednesday) night in Vancouver," Chipman said, referring to the almost deafening chorus of boos and catcalls that greeted the commissioner when he presented the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins.
Chipman said he had to be leaned on by Dave Angus, president of the Winnipeg chamber, a number of months ago before he agreed to speak.
Admittedly uncomfortable with public speaking, Chipman said he grew increasingly worried throughout the spring about the topic he would choose.
"Then I realized all I had to do to come up with the necessary material was buy an NHL team," he said.
Chipman and the rest of the head table received a standing ovation when they entered the ballroom to the sounds of Van Halen's Jump, the song that accompanied the Winnipeg Jets when they stepped onto home ice for many years.
Accompanying Chipman's remarks was a five-minute video montage outlining the history of True North's journey, starting with the last game of the Winnipeg Jets in 1996, moving to the 15-year history of the Manitoba Moose, through to the big announcement two weeks ago and to what lies in store for hockey fans next season and beyond.
There were more than a few moist eyes in the house when it finished.
What Chipman said:
On how the Manitoba Moose paved the way for the Atlanta Thrashers:
"We prided ourselves on the quality of experience we were able to provide for our players and coaches. When we moved to the MTS Centre in 2004, we committed to run our organization to the greatest extent possible as though we were operating it in the NHL."
On a January 2007 presentation with the NHL executive committee:
"There were four other cities that presented that day -- Houston, Kansas City, Las Vegas and Seattle. I only know that because we were the last to go and I took a glance at the guest book as we walked out the door."
On first being introduced to the idea of purchasing the Phoenix Coyotes:
"It was on the basis that the NHL was going to do everything possible to find a solution in Glendale. We were asked to act as a back-up plan. We willingly agreed to do so knowing that, if nothing else, we would become intimately acquainted with the process and gain a further level of trust and respect with the league."
On pursuing both the Coyotes and the Atlanta Thrashers this spring:
"Fortunately, much of the work needed to conclude a transaction had been started and running a parallel process on both teams was manageable. When it became apparent that Glendale had again purchased a placeholder position for next year, we immediately moved all of our assets to one track and commenced the intense process that led to our announcement just over two weeks ago."
On the role of Moose season ticket holders:
"We simply could not have ever conceived of this day had it not been for the unwavering support of all those Moose fans that believed in us when we started, stuck with us when we stumbled, gave us the confidence to build the MTS Centre and stepped up beyond our imaginations to signal their support of the return of the NHL over the past couple of weeks."
On his hometown:
"I believe the loss of the Winnipeg Jets in 1996 only stiffened our resolve and strengthened our collective will. In the 15 years that followed, our city prospered, often against the same economic headwinds that stopped other communities in their tracks. So, while the NHL and Winnipeg were not compatible in 1996, they sure are now and only because we, as a community, decided to make it so."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 17, 2011 A4
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