Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The best home in hockey -- Period.

'Peg has top fans in 30-team league

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It's become one of best moments in all of hockey and while there are likely just two of them left this season, there is no cause for desperation, but instead celebration.

From Pittsburgh to Montreal to Tampa to Dallas to Toronto to Vancouver there has been nowhere in hockey this year like Winnipeg. That buzz and shake that gets started in the final seconds before the Jets take to the ice is incomparable. Other buildings get loud but none drip with the emotion of Winnipeg's downtown arena.

As 15,004 Jets fans peek down at their team's bench and wait to get a glimpse of them in the tunnel the anticipation of 15 years builds over and over again. And as the players gather and choke the entranceway their legions rain down on them with wave after wave of encouragement.

There is simply nothing like it in hockey. Nowhere. For me it's been the definitive moment of this season of rebirth. And while much of this season will fade into memory, those freeze-frames will only go in storage for a few months and then be put back in action next October. And the October after that. On down the line in the new history of the NHL in Winnipeg.

The last time the Winnipeg Jets closed a season around here they shut down the shop for 15 years. There is no fear of that this time around, as your Jets will surely be back next fall. And the fall after that. Over and over, my friends.

So take stock and have a look around and remember the smell and sound and taste of all this because it's glorious.

But not because it's disappearing.

Not to dredge up painful memories but in all of the "firsts" this hockey city has experienced this season, the ending may be the most gratifying of them all. Because it's not the end. Not in the same way it was last time, when fans had to put their love of the Jets in hibernation for 15 interminable winters.

The hate and bitterness need not resurface after having been washed down with the joy of watching your new Jets. They're back and they're back for good.

All this comes courtesy of you and your willingness to love again. And then back that love with your money. True North asked and you ponied up big time. Good on you.

So let me ask you, was it worth it? Judging from the fullness of your throats night after night again and again, I'll take the answer as yes.

This story is just beginning and while the playoffs would be a fitting cap to this chapter there is also a thing called gluttony. Most hockey fans, had they been asked this time last year, would gladly have forgone any chance at the playoffs in order to get their NHL franchise back.

A foundation is being built here in Winnipeg. It starts with you and then is handed to Kevin Cheveldayoff and Claude Noel and Andrew Ladd and Ondrej Pavelec.

They must take the torch and carry it from here. Where they take it and how long it takes them to get there is still to be seen. This year you only get to watch them two more times at home.

But they'll be back next year because you've made them a home.

The best home in hockey.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 27, 2012 C1

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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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