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Go Jets go

Staff working at warp speed to get everything shipshape for season

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THEY knew it would be like this: an announcement comes and while a city erupts and a country rejoices those already working on the ground floor have to immediately crank things up.

Yes, True North Sports and Entertainment already had a top-notch hockey organization in place when Winnipeg was welcomed back into the NHL fraternity on May 31. But while grand toasts were being made and backs joyously slapped, those assigned with getting everything ready by puck drop in October quickly came to this realization: The to-do list was exceedingly long and the completion date extremely short.

The clock wasn’t just ticking on these guys, it was clanging like Big Ben on the hour, every hour.

So here we are two months into the arrival of the NHL — and with just over two months before the regular-season opener — and it’s time for a progress report on the Jets’ rather significant to-do list. And for that update we go right to the top...

"We’ve got a lot done, but there’s still a lot to do," said Jets chairman Mark Chipman this week.

"We had a meeting this morning, for example, about branding, marketing and game-production.

We had a discussion about the look and feel of opening night and that whole weekend. Those are things we’ve still got on the go. The biggest right now is we’ve still got a lot of matters pertaining to improvements to the building — it’s a long list with 300-some items; some big, some small.

"There’s the matter of office space because we have grown — our hockey-ops department has outgrown our space so we’re adding additional office space. Those things are tedious, time-consuming projects, but we’ve done this before."

And therein lies the key for True North in bringing the Jets 2.0 to life: they’ve done this before during 15 years running pro hockey in this town.

This is an organization, after all, that became a flagship in both the IHL and AHL by building a winning environment and sticking to the basic blueprint they wouldn’t do things on the cheap.

And that foundation has been critical in how the franchise has handled the many deadlines and sudden changes to their to-do list leading up to the Oct. 9 opener against the Montreal Canadiens.

"We had a very mature organization in place on May 31st... it’s not like we had to go hire a bunch of people," said Chipman. "We had been trying to run our organization much like an NHL team. We were staffed like an NHL team long before securing one. We have hired since that time in our finance department, but we’re basically the same organization today that we were a year ago. Other than the people we added to our hockey department — our sales and marketing, our sales and admin, our game production is basically what it was.

"We had the people in place and we also had a year to plan for this because we were pretty confident last year when we came as close as we did to buying a team (Phoenix) that there was a good possibility we were going to get a chance again.

We had a year to develop our plans on a lot of key fronts like the Drive to 13 and the pricing of inventory, our suite inventory and so on.

"So on May 31st it was really an announcement and a roll out of a lot of planning that we had been working on for the year leading up to it. The pace is a quick one but it’s been manageable, but only because the people that work for us have put in a remarkable effort."

Now, while there must be days when the to-do list looks particularly daunting — one task completion often leads to another being added — all this is simply part of being back in the bigs. And this time next year items that were critical this year — the season-ticket drive, designing a logo and jersey and retooling MTS Centre, for example — will be long forgotten.

For now, however, it’s all about being good to go by curtain raise in October.

"I’ll be honest, we’ve missed a lot of the reaction and we really haven’t had a lot of time to daydream," Chipman admitted. "But every now and again the reality hits you that we’re playing the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 9th and you picture how that’s going to look and feel. It’s fun to contemplate on those things but we don’t get the chance to dwell on them for a long period of time because we’ve got everybody going flat-out right now.

"But I don’t want to give you the impression that we’re so overwhelmed here that people are frantic. It’s not that way at all. I mean, it’s very busy, but it’s also very controlled or measured. Everybody’s going real hard, but it’s work that people like to do. When we first got into the business 15 years ago there was really no chance to exhale. Paint was drying on the walls when we opened up.

Same thing when we opened up the MTS Centre — people were cleaning up and running around that day. I don’t think it will be quite like that, but there’s a lot to do as we get closer and closer to opening night. I think the exhale will come after the fact and that’s fine, that’s great.

"Our people enjoy the process," Chipman added.

"This is what we’ve been living for and working towards for a long time."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: WFPEdTait

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