Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lots of love for Jets in T.O.

Not just ex-'Peggers cheering Winnipeg's team

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TORONTO -- They were like Winnipeg-born Supermen, slipping from their Bay Street uniforms into Jets jerseys before all of Toronto's very eyes.

Grown men strolled into a downtown watering hole and shrugged out of their Italian suit jackets and pulled their hometown team's hockey sweater out of bags for a quick change from big city businessmen into Jets fans.

"I circled this date on the calendar when the schedule came out and tried to get tickets but they were already sold out. But I was able just recently to scrounge a couple up," said Mike Rosenblat, a Winnipegger living in Toronto for the past four years, standing in the corner of Earls restaurant on King Street among a group of close to 100 Jets fans decked out in jerseys old and new. "I went back to Winnipeg for the season opener, too."

Rosenblat says Toronto has embraced the Jets and all the ex-pats wearing their colours of late.

"When the team got announced, I pulled out some of the jerseys I still had with the old logo and it's actually really supportive here," said Rosenblat. "There's been no negativity and bad comments. It's been fun to be a part of. I can't get the Jets channel. I offered Bell $200 to turn it on for me but you can't get it. There's only a little news here. I have the Free Press app on my iPad and it's the first thing I check every day."

Mark Hladik got his start with Earls as a dishwasher in Winnipeg, but is now heading up the chain's expansion into Ontario. His downtown Toronto location has become a roost for Jets fans.

"This has brought all the ex-pat Winnipeggers out in a fury and they're converging on this bar for big Jets occasions," said Hladik, wearing a new Jets logo T-shirt and beaming with his restaurant bustling and half the lounge reserved for Winnipeggers.

"The first game, it was a Sunday afternoon and the bar is normally dead. We had 300 people in here wearing Jets gear and screaming their heads off. It was incredible."

Hladik sent an email blast out touting Earls as the pre-game meeting place for Winnipeggers heading over to see the Jets take on the Leafs.

"It went viral. It's gone bananas. There are lots of Winnipeggers living in Toronto. Our whole management team is from Winnipeg and we love seeing those jerseys come into the bar," said Hladik.

Chris Partridge walked into Earls with a Jets jersey in his hand and quickly replaced his jacket with the sweater bearing Bob Essensa's name on the back.

"I live in Toronto but grew up in Winnipeg. I came here before the Jets left," said Partridge. "This is fantastic. I'm going to have to retrain my kids and get them to be Jets fans instead of Leafs fans. I love having the Jets back. Seeing all these people in Jets stuff -- it's amazing."

Rick Dyal has been in Toronto for 10 years, but hasn't transformed into a Leafs fan judging from the Hawerchuk jersey he was wearing Wednesday night.

"I cried when I heard the news. I'm so proud to be from Winnipeg. I love telling people this is my team and that's my city," said Dyal.

"They used to taunt me and I'd hear the Winter-peg thing, which drove me crazy. But now there's lots of love from Toronto people. They're happy for us, too. I'm so proud to say I'm from Winnipeg."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2011 C3

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