Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Players keen on outdoor contest

Jets looking forward to game at stadium

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NEWARK, N.J. -- Winnipeg Jets players and coaches are just as excited as their fans at the prospect of hosting an outdoor game at the new football stadium in 2016.

"It would be awesome. Good things keep happening to the city of Winnipeg and with that new football stadium getting built it would be a great place to play an outdoor game," said Jets veteran centre Jim Slater.

The Free Press reported Saturday the Jets are in negotiations with the NHL to host a Heritage Classic at Investors Group Field in March of 2016.

True North chairman Mark Chipman confirmed to the Free Press his organization is working with the league and both sides hope an announcement can be made shortly.

Chipman's profile within the league and its board of governors shot up during the lockout when he was invited to be part of a six-owner group to negotiate with the players' union.

With both sides confirming talks are ongoing, it's difficult to imagine a deal not happening. The NHL is also working on a Heritage Classic for another Canadian city, believed to be Vancouver, in 2014.

"You see the fans and the love for outdoor hockey on the rivers and all the outdoor rinks in the city. It would be a great experience for everyone," said Slater.

Twitter exploded with the news on Saturday afternoon and Jets fans immediately began speculating on an opponent for the Jets. Several fans hoped for a new franchise in Quebec City to be granted and for that team to skate outdoors with the Jets.

All Canadian teams received some votes, as did the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild. Premier Greg Selinger has discussed the idea with Minnesota business leaders and he says they're receptive to the idea.

Investors Group Field seats just over 33,000 for football but capacity would be increased by 7,000 with temporary seating in the south end zone. The NHL needs over 40,000 in seating to make the event economically viable.

Organizing an outdoor game and putting a team through the unusual circumstances can be stressful on a franchise, but Jets coach Claude Noel welcomes the opportunity.

"It would be good and it would be interesting to see what the weather would be," said Noel. "But it would be really good to have a chance to have a game of that magnitude in Canada. For us to host it as well would be great."

Slater has some outdoor game experience.

"I played in one my first year of college. Michigan State vs. Michigan was the game that really got all of these outdoor games started," he said. "It was called the Cold War and it was in front of 74,000 people and it's probably one of the highlights of my career. It's a great experience."

Not many NHL teams, at the most four in any given season, get the opportunity to play in an outdoor game. Slater's contract expires in 2015 but he says he'd like to stick around and the outdoor game makes the prospect more attractive.

"I don't think the outdoor game is the only reason," said Slater. "I love playing in Winnipeg. There's lots that go into a contract and those decisions, but like I said, anyone who has a chance to play in an outdoor game should. It's pretty exciting."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 11, 2013 C2

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