There was a new feel at the Players Cup Tuesday at Pine Ridge, thanks largely to a new event that created both golf and hockey buzz.
And heaven knows Winnipeg has been full of hockey buzz in 2011.
The Winnipeg Free Press Jonathan Toews and Friends Celebrity Pro-Am came to life as part of the annual Canadian Tour stop and saw Toews and 17 current and former NHL stars tee it up with 18 tour pros and 36 amateurs on a day with championship feel and decor.
It started with Monday night's "draw" party and player auction at the downtown Boston Pizza.
It continued Tuesday with real golf -- no scramble, all players played their own ball. Walking and caddies only. No power carts. And walking scorers and scoring signs to follow each group off tee times at the first and 10th holes.
Even security was required, mainly to get Toews to the first tee of his own tournament. He, along with others like recent Hockey Hall of Fame selection Doug Gilmour, Florida Panthers defenceman Brian Campbell, Blackhawks legend Denis Savard and three-time Stanley Cup winner Mike Keane, were swarmed by autograph seekers who descended on the course on a perfect summer's day.
"I play a lot of charity tournaments when I'm back here," said New Jersey Devils forward Travis Zajac, a Winnipegger. "It's the only time I can get out and have some fun.
"I like the scrambles where you can take the best ball and you're never hitting from the trees. Today's going to be a bit of a challenge, maybe dangerous for the fans, but it'll still be fun."
Normally, Monday through Wednesday at most tour events feature some special niche events or charity pro-ams. Pine Ridge has those as well this year, with a special kids-focused tournament on Monday in support of the Children's Rehabilitation Foundation and this afternoon's St. Boniface Hospital Cardiac Classic Pro-Am.
But Tuesday added a whole new flavour, capitalizing in part on the NHL's return to Winnipeg. The only thing that could have made it better was for a Winnipeg Jet or two to be present, but the entire last-minute nature of the NHL's relocation from Atlanta to Winnipeg and some unlucky timing for players like new Jets captain Andrew Ladd, who's getting married this week, precluded it for 2011.
Still, the Jets were a topic.
"I have looked at the schedule and we play (in Winnipeg) Dec. 3 and Jan. 14 and I think my phone will be shut off those days if people are looking for tickets," Zajac said, laughing.
Toews, who has lent his name to the Canadian Tour event in a big way this year, continued to flash his 2010 Olympic gold-medal and Stanley Cup-winning smile, press the flesh and sign anything put in front of him.
The end of the championship week is likely to reveal the power of the Toews brand -- mainly in how successful a charity fundraising week it's been.
"I'm definitely honoured to have a lot of these guys out here, hockey players in the middle of the summer," said Toews, who once again was being followed in Winnipeg by the Chicago Blackhawks' website TV crew Tuesday. "And the Jets, it's what everyone wants to talk about. You see people walking around with Hawks jerseys or Calgary Flames jerseys. Now they can be proud of having their own team. It's great for Winnipeg and for any NHL players that come back here."
On his relationship with Toews and why he was here:
"To help out a friend. Well, he supports me with the charity stuff that I do in Chicago, so it's a give-and-take situation, so when he did approach me, it was a 'yes,' and I was looking forward to it. He's a good kid and I've learned a lot from being an older guy and being around the league a little bit. Learning from a kid like Jonathan, it's pretty impressive, the makeup that he has. He's a good friend and good to be around."
-- former teammate Brian Campbell, now with the Florida Panthers
On his perception of the NHL's return to Winnipeg:
"I think it's outstanding, great for the province and the league itself because they're bringing on a first-class ownership group and they're going to run a first-class operation like they proved with the Moose. They're going to add a lot of value to the NHL."
-- former Jets defenceman Dave Ellett
On the recent resurrection of his 1990 playoff-winning goal against the Oilers in double overtime:
"I've had emails about that, people coming out of the woodwork telling me they've seen it. That sure is a long time ago."
On the shrinking window pro hockey players find for golf and other summer relaxation:
"It's a full-year thing now. You've got to train all year now. Guys are getting bigger, stronger, faster and the game's changing. Guys are more conditioned, they're not taking as much time off and they're taking it to work on their game and get better. And it's good, because we want players who are the best in the world playing it."
-- New Jersey Devils forward Travis Zajac of Winnipeg
On an NHL schedule that does not bring his team to Winnipeg in 2011-12:
"I think a lot of people were hoping to see Detroit in Winnipeg at least once, but that's the way the league set it up this year. I'm a little disappointed I don't get a chance to come home and play in front of a lot of family and friends."
-- Detroit Red Wings forward Darren Helm
Asked if he realized the playoffs were long over:
"The playoff joke, that's a new one."
-- Helm, who is sporting a full beard