Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Jets is a fine name,' Winnipeg franchise's co-owner says

Thomson dreamed of playing in the NHL

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MAKE that one vote -- one very big vote -- in the "Winnipeg Jets" corner.

David Thomson, Canada's richest man and newly minted co-owner of the new NHL franchise in town, weighed in on the moniker debate Tuesday.

"I think the Jets is a fine name," Thomson said. "(The team's name) is something we will have to think hard about. And swiftly."

Growing up in Toronto, Thomson said he played hockey and aspired to one day play in the NHL.

"I had dreams. It was always a deep connection, not just to the sport but to the country. My father (Ken) was a passionate hockey fan. I used to go to (Toronto) Maple Leafs games with him," he said.

Thomson's business relationship with True North Sports & Entertainment and its chairman Mark Chipman goes back to 2001, but he said he first started to connect with Manitoba more than three decades earlier.

"Our company acquired the Hudson's Bay Company on April 4, 1979. I moved through the business in 1980. It was a hardened baptism. I went all across the country and developed friendships throughout all the provinces, particularly in Manitoba," he said.

Thomson said buying the Atlanta Thrashers and moving them to Winnipeg was "the right thing to do."

"Who would have imagined such a confluence of circumstances? The opportunity makes sense. Mark and I share the same values. We've weathered some storms. When you do things for the right reasons, everything else seems to flow," he said.

"We felt there might a moment when the team might come back. It's felt right for a few years. You have to be patient."

Thomson said he didn't direct his energies to securing a particular franchise for Winnipeg.

"It's a tempestuous situation with the owners and the league," he said.

Even though Leafs stars such as Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and Borje Salming got all the media attention in the 1970s and early '80s, Thomson said he was well aware of the Jets and their stars.

"(Dale) Hawerchuk was a great player in Winnipeg, and of course, Bobby Hull," he said.

It was the players, not the teams, with whom Thomson connected as a young hockey fan.

"When the Leafs traded Bobby Pulford to Los Angeles, I switched allegiances to the L.A. Kings (prior to the 1970-71 season), long before Wayne Gretzky arrived there," he said.

Other favourites from his youth included Bobby Orr, Wayne Cashman and Brad Park of the Boston Bruins, Dave Keon and George Armstrong of the Leafs and Vic Hadfield of the New York Rangers.

Thomson was coy about his role with Winnipeg's new team.

"Mark (Chipman) leads the organization. I'm just delighted to play a part," he said.

When asked to elaborate, he smiled and said: "I'll leave that up to you to imagine."

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 1, 2011 C2

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