Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

You need to have a cake to ice it

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Unlike Stephen Harper and all the others who managed to pull strings to horn their way into the game, I was not at the official rise of the phoenix Jets last night.

But then, unlike the string-pullers, I'm not in it for bragging rights following a one-night stand (which I begrudgingly admit was orgasmic, even on TV).

No, not the faux fan, I -- I'm in it for the long haul.

Along with six others, I joined a cartel to buy two very-good season tickets on the blue-line in the lower bowl (Sec. 207, Row 5, seats 12 and 13). I'll see the Jets once a month all season long.

Actually, I've already seen the new Jets, and heard the delirium they generate in Jets-lagged fans. I took my son-in-law Perry Allard to the final pre-season game on Sept. 30 against the Nashville Predators.

Perry lives and breathes hockey. He was planning to go downtown that night to hang around the MTS Centre just to soak up some atmosphere.

Like most of the 15,004 on hand, he was screaming himself hoarse, loving every minute, taking pictures and video.

When it looked like the game would go into overtime, I was concerned -- better to win it in regulation, I said.

"Are you nuts?" he responded. "This will be the first overtime and we get to see it."

When overtime was out of time, I worried that shootouts are risky.

"Are you nuts?" he responded. "This will be the first shootout of the modern era."

He was right on both counts, and although the Jets lost 3-2 in the shootout, the fact is that we witnessed the first overtime and shootout of the modern era -- take that, Stephen Harper.

But as I said up top, it's the long haul that really matters. And when I think of the long haul and the Jets, the first thing that comes to mind, of course, is the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is starting to sparkle at The Forks.

The museum will give Winnipeg something it has not had -- a destination attraction, a reason in and of itself to come here.

The Jets, of course, have drawn major attention back to Winnipeg for reasons other than crime or catastrophe for the first time in 15 years. The return, which the first official game against Montreal Sunday symbolized, is the biggest story in hockey and certainly the biggest story in Manitoba in memory. The world is watching Winnipeg today and the team's exploits will keep that attention focussed on Winnipeg for years to come.

But while the Jets will draw attention to Winnipeg, they won't draw that many visitors; the success of the season-ticket drive and the limits on seating assure that.

The CMHR, however, will attract tens of thousands.

Many of the arrivals will come by air, so their first impression of Winnipeg will be the new, $600-million airport project.

I had an opportunity to tour the terminal in advance of the Queen's arrival last summer. I tell you, walking around it makes you do double takes -- "This is Winnipeg?!"

So, OK, it's a year behind schedule, but it will open soon and it will make a good first impression, every time.

Or maybe CMHR visitors will arrive by way of the freeway being built to link CentrePort around the airport to the TransCanada Highway.

The buzz about the Jets will not be lost when convention planners start looking for convention centres in the near future. And when they do, they'll find that Winnipeg's convention centre has doubled in size at a cost of $180 million along with related developments that could push investment into the $400-million range.

The return of the Jets has already caused a hotel to germinate on Portage Avenue, while the museum is causing another to rise on the Red along swank Waterfront Drive.

What is there to do in Winnipeg, other than go to the zoo, Dieter Brock once lamented. But that was then. Assiniboine Park is undergoing a transformation so extensive that today Brock's lament might be that he can't go to the zoo.

Visitors, of course, like to shop. And while Winnipeg provides a good shopping experience, it has not, until now, had a destination shopping centre like the IKEA store that will anchor a vast new shopping district just south of Kapyong Barracks, which is slated to become a park-and-ride centre for the new football stadium rising at the University of Manitoba.

All this and the population is exploding due to the sponsorship program launched to bring new bodies into Manitoba at about the same time as the Jets were flying out.

The truth is, 15 years ago, Winnipeg and Manitoba were going through hard times and we simply didn't have what it takes to stay in the bigs.

Today we do, and that includes the MTS Centre, which has been a great addition to the city even without the NHL. And that's what we seem to have learned. You need a cake to ice it.

And on that note, at the start of the game Sunday, a guy in the stands was holding up a sign saying "Welcome to The Hanger." Seems like even the nickname has fallen into place.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 10, 2011 A12

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