Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

That's the spirit

David Thomson has much more than a business interest in the Winnipeg Jets

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David Thomson makes an endless series of business transactions and while some turn out better than others, few have resulted in the confluence of patriotism and capitalism as his stake in the Winnipeg Jets.

Thomson, the latest in the line of Canada's greatest business family, following his grandfather Roy Thomson and his father Ken Thomson, is a partner with the Chipman family in ownership of the Jets.

The arrangement began as a simple real estate transaction that peaked this spring with the acquisition of the Atlanta Thrashers and subsequent relocation of the franchise to Winnipeg as the Jets.

While Mark Chipman has been the face of the return of the Jets, Thomson has been his conspirator, ally, confidante and finally, friend. They've endured ups and downs and quietly stuck to a plan as they've repatriated the Jets and given Canada its seventh NHL franchise.

Thomson will be in Winnipeg this weekend to stand side by side with his partner and bask in the glow of the Jets engine. Perhaps surprisingly, or maybe not, Thomson is just as anxious as the rest of us to feel the moment. Thomson granted the Free Press an interview on Thursday afternoon.

The chairman of Thomson Corporation based in Toronto, with homes in that city and London, Thomson could own just about any sports franchise in the world.

The question has been asked repeatedly, why Winnipeg?

David Thomson: "From earlier in my life to my days with the Hudson Bay Company dating back to the late '70s and certainly 1980, spending several weeks in the city and throughout the province and making friendships and experiences like no other. Water-skiing on the Red River, visiting communities in the North, Hudson Bay stores, trading outposts, travelling through communities, many struggling with social issues and economic hardship. It struck me to the core. It was the spirit of the people, their optimism and their humanity that came across. Their situation could be managed. The circumstances, no matter how difficult, could be overcome. There is an indomitable spirit and an optimism that was very special and it stayed with me. For a lifetime. So an involvement with the city is an honour and it goes beyond the city to the province and ultimately the country. The return of the Jets symbolizes an act and a piece of our heritage. It means something. That meaning will only reverberate and strengthen with time. I feel that it's the beginning of a journey that will become heroic. There will be dark patches but they'll always come back in ways that we're not always able to see. It will define character and it will substantiate so many of the qualities that have already been exhibited in all the trials and tribulations that we already feel across the world, the country and the province."

 

Sunday will be a big day for the Jets and this city. How does Thomson feel about all of this?

"I'm absolutely thrilled. My eldest daughter studies in Glasgow and she's boarded a flight for Toronto and she'll be coming with me, as will my other daughter. It's just something so special to be a party to... I can honestly already feel it in Toronto now on the telephone talking to you. I've been very much touched as things have built within the MTS Centre, the team and the NHL. It's something that I would use the word ecstatic to describe."

 

The Thomson family, led first by his grandfather Roy and then his father Ken, owned the Free Press for many years. Thomson was asked how they would feel about the family's role with the Jets.

"They'd be immensely proud. They'd be so proud. I know my grandfather would have no concept that his grandson would end up being involved with an NHL team, and not just an NHL team, but a team that came back to Canada and a part of Canada that resonates with our own lineage, Timmins and North Bay. My grandfather's father was a barber. In our family there's always been this extraordinary attachment with rural Canada. My goodness, I collect it in photography. It's just something that's ingrained. So I think he would be touched. My father would have another dimension in that hockey to him was the great sport of his life. It was topic of conversation that we shared from my earliest memories with the focus on the players and their wellbeing. It wasn't the machinations of ownership or politics. It was how could that player cope with that circumstance of being injured with a bad groin or bad back. Hockey to me has always been about leadership and having individuals at the peak of their performance both physically and emotionally. Would he be proud? Oh. With the game, ecstatic. With the community and the reactions and the feelings that resonate within the community, he'd be overcome with emotion, pure and simple."

Thomson says being an honourary Winnipegger is a badge he's proud to wear.

"I have some very good friends that have lived in Winnipeg and I've flown in float planes to fish in Molson Lake and Gods River and I feel as I fly over the country and Lake of the Woods that there's something really very special and maybe it's the deep and rich exposure to the land and the people. I just feel as a Canadian, I'm really thrilled at the prospect of having an even more meaningful growth and association with the city and the community for years to come. I live in Toronto and I have a home in London and I travel, but Winnipeg is part of my heart. It's not a franchise coming as part of a business transaction. This is a quality of life and an aspiration. People will ask you where would you want to be and you'd have a hard time not choosing Manitoba and Winnipeg. It disappoints me when I hear comments from people and they purport Winnipeg to be almost second-class. 'Yeah it's cold and it's something.' Really? It's an attribute. So many of these things that are criticisms are positive attributes and you see it in the quality and character of what's happening right now. It's not just a team coming."

Thomson may be an owner but he's a fan too.

"I'm really thrilled at how the players seemed to have jelled. The young (Mark) Scheifele, the captain (Andrew) Ladd, chaps like (Bryan) Little. I could list them all. I'm really excited because I feel a dynamic and a lifeforce there with this team. To me they have a shared energy. It's a sense of being elated. The fans of the Jets have felt these sensations in the exhibition games. It's self-evident we have something special."

Thomson expects strong emotions on Sunday.

"I think that it's very hard to find words because all of us for different reasons look in our lives for moments where destiny has changed or shifted. Some will look at this and wonder about the euphoria and say, 'it's a hockey game.' But it's more than a hockey game but the essence of who we really are as Canadians. I feel deep-set emotion and get teary eyed very often when I think about what's taken place and what I feel is in the beginning of its being. We haven't even started our run. It's not our team. It's not my team. It's the community's team and the province's and the country's. And I can hardly believe that I'm a part of it. How did I deserve to have such an alignment and an attachment? I'm grateful. I'm the one that is grateful."

 

Thomson has had the opportunity in his lifetime to see and do just about anything that comes to mind. Sunday, however, won't take a back seat to his previous experiences.

"Where does this rate? Right at the top. How could anything rate higher? There may be something someday that equates with it but nothing will surpass it. If it does, I have to figure a way to move that out to many, many people. This is unique and a moment we've all seized."

 

At the suggestion that winning a Stanley Cup in Winnipeg might be a higher moment, Thomson agreed.

"Absolutely. That would be something really quite phenomenal and it's absolutely within our reach. Every Jets fan will believe that and I think they're right to. We'll pace ourselves and we'll be humble but we personify the virtues that it takes to go the distance and triumph."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 8, 2011 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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