They have been the busiest 10-plus months in sports around these parts for a very long time. From the moment Mark Chipman announced he'd purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and was bringing them to Winnipeg, it's been basically non-stop action on the sports calendar.
Everyone will have their own memories from this stretch and here's my personal playback of the year that I'll always remember for the return of the Winnipeg Jets.
1. Mark Chipman calling me at 5 a.m. on May 31 to tell me the deal wasn't done but to go ahead and post a story saying he expected to announce his purchase of the Thrashers.
2. Hitting send on a double-byline story written by Tim Campbell and myself announcing the return of the NHL to Winnipeg.
3. Standing in a hallway at the MTS Centre and looking up to see Chipman, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and David Thomson headed our way to make the announcement Winnipeggers had been waiting 15 years to hear.
4. Chipman taking the podium and sharing the news he and Thomson were now the owners of the Atlanta Thrashers and they'd be moving the team to Winnipeg. Hours later seeing the video of fans on Portage Avenue hearing the news gave me chills.
5. Flying to Calgary and then driving to Crowsnest Pass for the funeral of newly signed Jets free agent Rick Rypien. In the middle of the most joyous hockey summers in years, the worst of news needed to be delivered.
6. After a busy summer of stories regarding a new GM, new coaches and the revealing of an old name and new jersey, the morning of Game 1 arrived and Campbell, along with hockey writer Ed Tait and myself, crammed into one car and headed downtown for the greatest of hockey days.
7. Standing in the atrium of the MTS Centre doing a radio show and looking up to see Bettman making his way to the stage and the crowd realizing he was among them and spontaneously breaking into the chant of, 'Gary, Gary, Gary.' The smile on Bettman's face was priceless.
8. Standing at attention for the singing of O Canada and fighting back so many emotions as the city of Winnipeg stood in unison to acknowledge the end of one long and sometimes dark journey while simultaneously beginning a new, hopeful trip as once again a major city in the world of hockey.
9. Leaving the rink more than a dozen hours later and walking through the convention centre to see the tired but satisfied smiles on so many faces even after a loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
10. Arriving in Chicago for the Jets' first road game of the season and seeing that magnificent skyline. I felt immense pride in our community that we were once again rubbing shoulders with the likes of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Winnipeg was back where it belonged.
11. Walking into Earls Restaurant in downtown Toronto hours before the Jets first game with the Leafs in 15 years and finding a sea of Jets jerseys. Winnipegger and Leafs public address man Andy Frost would pay tribute to our city and its team later that night in a class move by the Leafs organization.
12. The games in Winnipeg. Night after night the crowd amazed. Loud and passionate and full of voice. It was something to behold and all over North America people wanted to know what it was like but it was really indescribable. You just had to be there and luckily we all were.
13. The hockey team. They were fun and frustrating to watch all at once. Young and not quite ready for the moment they were thrust into. They delivered on home ice but then wilted outside Winnipeg's city limits. They missed the playoffs. No matter, the 2011-2012 Winnipeg Jets will hold a place in the city's hearts forever.
14. The people in Winnipeg. We know who we are as a community. Friendly Manitoba. But we're more and this year showed us in such great light. Our town persevered and then revelled in its ultimate moment of resurrection. Conversation after conversation with strangers and friends alike focused on the positives of the moment. It's been a great year to call oneself a Winnipegger.
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