Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

If we get NHL back, we better love it a lot

Fan, business support must be full-bore here

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For some time now, Winnipeggers have made noise about their desire for the NHL to return to this city and with the talking stage possibly moving aside for the doing stage, there are relevant questions that must be asked.

First on that list is the willingness of Winnipeggers to support an NHL franchise over the long haul in a manner that will allow it to thrive.

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As a city, we've talked the talk. Well, it's potentially bell time around here and now we'll have to prove we can walk the walk.

Can and will Winnipeg support an NHL team? It's no slam dunk and, for an NHL franchise to work in this community, there will have to be a tight management strategy and fuel to feed the engine. That fuel is cash, put forth by individual fans as well as business big and small.

Strategic and effective ownership, supported by an invested fan base, will make this enterprise work. Make no mistake, an NHL team in Winnipeg playing in the league's smallest arena will not have the same resources as such monster franchises as Toronto and Chicago.

The NHL in Winnipeg will work at one speed and one speed only -- full throttle.

Before the marketplace can react, a team needs to be bought and brought to Winnipeg. While it could be down to days before a resolution is reached in Glendale, where the city is scrambling to save the Coyotes, there is still no guarantee this will turn in favour of Winnipeg.

The NHL continues to work on closing a sale with Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer, but faces two major hurdles -- time and money.

Hulsizer can't or won't finance the purchase without the $100 million the City of Glendale has committed to the $170-million purchase price. Glendale hopes to raise that money through a bond sale, but opposition from taxpayer watchdog the Goldwater Institute has made selling the bond problematic.

Goldwater told the Free Press Friday its position has not changed and they view the sale agreement as illegal.

Glendale, Hulsizer and the NHL continue to try to raise the cash. The league, which is working to push the bond on investors, is of the opinion the bond will either gain traction in a matter of days or the deal will be dead.

In most reports about the struggles of the Coyotes and Atlanta Thrashers, there are two common threads -- poor ownership and a soft fan base.

Winnipeg appears to have both those areas covered with a solid ownership group in True North Sports and Entertainment and a healthy relationship between hockey and the community.

Should the NHL come back for a second run, it will be incumbent on both ownership and the community to do their part to make it work.

It remains to be seen if that will happen, but it sure would seem easier to sell hockey where the people doing the buying know a Hawerchuk from a chuckawalla.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

clock ticking, nhl pushing bonds D3

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2011 D1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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