TWO days after Mark Chipman and Gary Bettman announced the NHL was coming back to Winnipeg this fall, one of the city's biggest hockey stars offered his endorsement of hockey's best league returning to his hometown.
Jonathan Toews said Thursday that the enthusiasm he's seen already for the soon-to-be-relocated Atlanta Thrashers may have some implications for him down the road.
"To come back to Winnipeg and see the support I got for the Stanley Cup (last year), well, if we win it again, I might not get that as much the next time around because everyone's cheering for their own team now," said last year's Cup, Conn Smythe and Olympic gold medal winner. "I think they'll have a good team here in Winnipeg and hopefully they'll be competitive for the next little while."
Toews said fan enthusiasm and support is what makes it all worthwhile to players.
"It means a great deal," he said. "It wouldn't be as special if you didn't have the fans and people cheering you on the whole way. For about two months (in those playoffs), you have a whole city behind you. That's kind of an extension of your team in a way."
As for the city's newest hot hockey topic, Toews declared his feelings without hesitation.
"I hope it's (named) the Jets," he said. "I'm not afraid to say it, why not? Who knows what will happen but we're the Winnipeg Jets; that's how I grew up loving hockey and watching the Winnipeg Jets."
Toews said he did not venture to Portage and Main or to the Forks with Tuesday's announcement.
"I just watched it on TV and read what was going on in the newspaper," he said. "But it's exciting. I've been getting a lot of questions. I'm pumped, too. I honestly didn't think there'd be a team in Winnipeg during my career but it's awesome a guy like Mark Chipman could seize this opportunity.
"I think it's going beyond just hockey. Being in Winnipeg and being in a Canadian city, as a Winnipegger you can definitely tell it's given us our identity back.
"It's something to be proud of. It'll be an exciting thing to come back and play here soon."
Toews said that "buzz" in a city is what matters to players, including potential future players in Winnipeg.
"I'm sure they know how excited the people have been here and who wouldn't want to play in an atmosphere like that for the next couple of years?" he said. "I can't imagine how crazy those crowds are going to be at the MTS Centre for the first couple of games next year."
Toews also gave a ringing endorsement for Andrew Ladd, his former teammate and the Thrashers captain last season.
"It was tough to see him go," Toews said of the move that sent Ladd from the Cup-winning Hawks to Atlanta. "You always have to give the right answer about welcoming new teammates but you just won the Stanley Cup with some of those guys and I wish Andrew was one of those guys we'd hung onto.
"He's a true pro the way he plays and prepares off the ice. I think this team will be lucky to have him."
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