Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Itching for NHL's return to 'Peg

Prime press-box position a dream

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PHILADELPHIA -- No sooner had your humble agent arrived at Chicago's United Center prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final when a voice called out from across the media work room in the bowels of the monstrous arena.

"Hey, Turner!" yelped a columnist from the Big Smoke, "judging by your (assigned) seat in the press box, the NHL doesn't think that much of Winnipeg's chances of getting back in the NHL. Ha!"

Sure enough, the seat designated for the Free Press was in what's called an auxiliary box -- Section 9, Row 12 -- which was literally bumping up against the roof of the massive building. If you were any further up in the air, you'd need to file a flight plan. And the seats were right amongst the wild, rabid fans in the arena's low-rent district, where blue-collar Hawks faithful stand on their tippy-toes to get a glimpse of the action unfolding seven storeys below.

It's kinda cool, actually. But that's not the point. It's just that as the lone media wolf from The Little City That Couldn't, you feel a little bit like a long-lost relative at a family reunion as opposed to a complete stranger.

For Game 2, I was moved even closer to ice-level, from Row 12 in the Aux Box... to Row 8. Chided the same Toronto scribe: "When you get to here (pointing to the actual press box seating chart) that's when Winnipeg will be back in the NHL."

Funny guy.

Good-natured ribbing aside, however, there's no shortage of skeptics in this dodgy racket that are cynical of Winnipeg's renewed efforts to find footing again on NHL soil. The MTS Centre is too small, some believe. Others cling to the notion that, no offence, but the market just isn't big enough to generate at least $80 million in revenue year after year -- and that's if the Canadian dollar doesn't plunge, as it did in the 1990s, bringing all small-market Canuck-based teams to the financial abyss.

Valid

You can find those folks in Winnipeg, too, for that matter. It's all valid, given the city's uneven NHL history.

But for the most part, the majority of the assembled media -- at least those who even care, frankly -- have come around to believe the return of the NHL to Winnipeg is inevitable. And most of them express that conclusion with a genuine trace of as-it-should-be. As stated in this space before, that's light years removed from the prevailing attitudes on press row just four or five years ago.

It's not just the ink-stained wretches in print or the hair-and-teeth on TV, either, but GMs and coaches and players alike.

Sure, Philadelphia Flyers assistant GM John Paddock, the first Manitoba-born head coach of the Jets -- who was general manager of the team during it's last-gasp season in 1995 -- might have a bias. But Paddock is convinced Winnipeg's days as an AHL city are numbered.

Paddock cited NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's state-of-the-union address prior to the Stanley Cup final, where Bettman said the same reasons the NHL left Winnipeg -- an outdated arena and lack of ownership -- are the same reasons the city is now atop the league's do-to list, in terms of relocation.

"It was an interesting point he (Bettman) made," Paddock, a native of Oak River, reasoned. "Of course, nobody wanted to see the team go. But he said there was no owner and no building. That's the truth, you know.

"Obviously, now there's a building there (in Winnipeg) that they feel is capable of creating enough revenue for an NHL team or they wouldn't be talking about it. And there's ownership there that know the business and are pursuing it (a team), so it sounds like the real thing.

"My own opinion is I'd be shocked if it (the NHL) wasn't back there," Paddock concluded.

For what it's worth, for Game 3 in Philadelphia, there was a seat waiting for me in the main press box. That guy from Toronto? He was about 30 feet farther down.

Who knows? Maybe when he gets a little closer to the action, there will be a second team in Toronto someday.

I'm just sayin'.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 3, 2010 C7

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.

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