A new era in Junior A hockey in Winnipeg begins this Friday.
The Winnipeg Blues — after dropping the South designation from their team name — will face the Selkirk Steelers at 7:30 p.m. in their regular-season opener at the brand new MTS Iceplex.
The move from the run-down Century Arena to the 1,500-seat Winnipeg Free Press Arena — one of four rinks in the facility — has team president Dean Cockell drooling over the possibilities.
"The move, we hope, is going to save junior A hockey in Winnipeg in my opinion," said Cockell, one of 16 shareholders in the team.
At one time, there were four Manitoba Junior Hockey League teams in Winnipeg. With the Saints moving to St. Adolphe this season, the Blues — who will be a stone’s-throw from the Perimeter Highway in their new home — are the only team in the city’s immediate area.
"We were (at Century) for 27 years," Cockell said. "This is a long time coming. It’s going to allow us to do some things and get a lot of interest for people to get reacquainted with junior hockey."
Playoff games have always drawn a full house for the Blues, but Cockell said he was "ecstatic" to see a crowd of 200 at Century for a regular-season game.
This year, he’s cautiously optimistic that attendance will climb above 300 on a regular basis.
Aside from the adrenaline boost that comes with playing in front of a bigger crowd, Cockell said the players are very high on their new digs.
"We have a first-class room," he said. "It’s the same as what the Moose have at the other end of the building. The coach will have an office, there’s a proper therapy room and equipment room…it’s a better situation all around.
"We’ve gone from one of the worst facilities to one of the best, and that’s across Canada. It may be better than some WHL teams."
In addition to the rinkside seating, fans will have the option of watching games from a restaurant overlooking the ice. Tickets for Blues games are $10 for adults.
For a complete schedule, visit www.mjhlhockey.ca.