Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cool your Jets - root for 'Canada's Team'

No love for Canucks - it's all 'B.C. sucks'

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I'm incredibly excited the NHL is poised to return to Winnipeg.

I'm just not as excited as you are.

It's not that I don't love hockey. I love hockey a lot, despite the fact -- and I realize this will make you think even less of me than you do already -- I never really learned how to skate.

Not that I let this minor problem stop me. Back in the day, as a pasty-faced kid growing up in Vancouver, I briefly became the non-skating backup goalie/mascot for my older brother's hockey team.

The way it worked was, they would slap some skates and goalie pads on me, then, in the final minutes of a game in which we were comfortably ahead, the bigger kids would grab me by both arms and, like a piece of furniture wobbling on its ankles, glide me across the ice and park me in the goal.

If the puck had ever hit me, I would have died of heart failure on the spot, but the tragic truth is, my brother and the rest of his teammates played like tiny demons and I never faced a single shot.

But that's not the point. The point is, like every right-minded Canadian, I love hockey. And I love Winnipeg, too.

I just can't get as worked up as everybody else at the prospect of the Jets -- or whatever they end up calling them -- returning to the city I've called home for 37 years.

I'll tell you what my problem is. It's a little thing called loyalty. I believe that -- unless you happen to be Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tiger Woods or Charlie Sheen -- you NEVER betray your first love.

And as a dorky kid on the West Coast, my first love was the Vancouver Canucks. And the B.C. Lions. OK, technically, I had two first loves, but you get the point.

Sure, I've spent most of my life in Winnipeg -- and I love getting brain freeze from a Slurpee, spitting off the bridge behind the Bridge Drive-In, and being forced to use my car heater and air conditioner on the SAME day -- but I am faithful to my first loves.

It hasn't always been easy. Back in the day, the Lions were to football what Ben Affleck is to acting, what Lindsay Lohan is to martinis. The Canucks were even worse. Going to a Canucks game was like attending a Jerry Lewis Film Festival -- they could make more money charging you to get out than to get in.

But I didn't care how lousy my teams were. The only thing that mattered is they were MY teams. While I'm happy the NHL is making a comeback here, my entire body is vibrating with excitement, because the Canucks are back in the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 17 (bad word) years.

The only thing I don't really understand, Winnipeg, is why you aren't excited, too. It's not like a Canadian team makes it to the final every (very bad word) year, is it? Seriously, a Canadian team hasn't won it all since the year Jurassic Park was shattering box office records and Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You was shattering our eardrums.

The truth is, Winnipeg, for reasons I cannot fathom, you hate Vancouver. Don't bother denying it. Every time I show up on game day at Canad Inns Stadium in my official Lions jersey, the hometown crowd rips my little football-loving heart out with cruel chants of: "B.C. SUCKS! B.C. SUCKS!"

True story: On Friday, before leaving work, I stood in front of our city desk and politely asked: "Why do you guys hate B.C. so much?" Without skipping a beat, an editor snarled: "Because B.C. SUCKS!"

I could understand people chanting "TORONTO SUCKS!" because, let's face it, Toronto really does suck.

Before the Jets left town, I was the lone doofus sitting in the cheap seats at the Winnipeg Arena wearing a tattered Canucks jersey and bravely cheering for such legends as Tony Tanti and Orland Kurtenbach, prompting a few hometown fans (cross my heart) to whip ice-cold beers at the back of my head.

Look, Winnipeg, I'm rooting for the NHL to finally bring its act back here, so the least you can do is suck it up and get behind "Canada's Team" as they take on the hated Boston Bruins for the Cup and for our national pride.

I like to think that, in the near future, I'll be able to sit in MTS Centre and cheer for my guys as they face off against the Winnipeg/Manitoba (name of new NHL team goes here). When that glorious day comes, Winnipeg, if you're sitting behind me holding an ice-cold beer, I'd also like to think your aim won't be any better than it was 20 years ago.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2011 A2

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