Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Habs, Pens first guests to arrive

Stellar start to season for Winnipeg's NHL team

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Winnipeg's new era of NHL hockey starts with the Montreal Canadiens and continues with a stellar two weeks in early October.

The NHL released its 2011-12 schedule on Thursday and Winnipeg opens with a home game against Montreal on Oct. 9, continues with road games in Chicago and Phoenix and then sees a visit to the MTS Centre by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 17.

December will be heavy with home games, 12 in all.

The first appearance of the Toronto Maple Leafs will be the annual New Year's Eve game in Winnipeg.

The schedule's start times, in particular Saturday games that will start at 6 p.m., suggest Winnipeg could have 15 Hockey Night in Canada appearances in the coming season.

Winnipeg will play 12 of the 15 Western Conference teams -- their future hot rivals -- only once each this season because it will be in the Eastern Conference for one year.

Of the western teams, only Phoenix, Edmonton and Colorado will get home-and-homes with Winnipeg this season.

"There are a few quirks, but every team has those," Winnipeg assistant GM Craig Heisinger said Thursday. "It was a good productive process and they (the NHL) seemed to take our situation into consideration, especially that we were in the door so late. We're just happy we have a schedule in the NHL."

Playing in the Southeast Division, Winnipeg will have a lot of travel to the southeast and eastern seaboard of the U.S.

"It'll be challenging," Heisinger said. "There's going to be a lot of travel. I think we're going to have to do a good job of co-ordinating that, making good decisions on when to travel and when to stay over."

In total, there will be seven games at the MTS Centre this season featuring Canadian teams, including two against Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa and one more against Edmonton.

Winnipeg fans will have to wait a season to see Vancouver and Calgary at the MTS Centre.

The opener against the Habs, however, is going to be one special occasion.

"It'll be tremendously exciting against a storied franchise and an original six team," Heisinger said. "The league was real passionate about (us having) a high-profile opponent on the first night.

"For that, we're grateful. There's a lot of history of the Montreal Canadiens playing in the old arena."

Also Thursday, the franchise released its seven-game pre-season schedule.

That will begin Sept. 20 with split-squad games in Columbus and Winnipeg between the Blue Jackets and yet-to-be-named Winnipeg team.

Winnipeg then goes on the road to play the Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes Sept. 24 and 25, then jets off to Newfoundland for the Kraft Hockeyville game Sept. 26 against the Ottawa Senators.

Winnipeg then comes home for its final pre-season games Sept. 28 and 30 against Carolina and Nashville.

NOTES: The NHL and NHLPA have confirmed that next year's salary cap will be $64.3 million. The floor will be $48.3 million. Last season's Atlanta team spent about $46.3 million on players.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 24, 2011 C2

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