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The hockey story of the season

NHL's return to 'Peg city was big news

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It was a year ago today when the guessing and wondering finally ended.

The question, "Will Winnipeg ever get its NHL team back?" was answered with a definitive yes as Mark Chipman made his momentous announcement.

Most Winnipeggers will remember where they were when Chipman gave us the news. Sure, we knew or suspected it was coming for a while and when True North Sports & Entertainment gathered the hockey world's attention to a basement meeting room at the MTS Centre, there was no doubt about what was coming. But until the man who will forever be known for bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg made it official, there was no finality.

And so it was as if Chipman had dropped a joy bomb on Winnipeg that reverberated through the city, country and even the world.

It was, simply put, a very big day.

What's it been like since? Where Free Press hockey writers would go to NHL events in the past and face the "Coming back," question, now it's been, "Wow, what was it like there this year?"

The answer, of course, is awesome. It's difficult to put into words but it's been one amazing event after another.

The aftershocks of Chipman's announcement have been felt again and again this year and Winnipeg has been a hot topic throughout the hockey world. TSN boys Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole loved looking in on our city and reporting night after night what was going down in the 'Peg. Onrait even jumped on a plane late in the season to take in a game on a night off.

Winnipeg -- and it all stemmed from those magical moments on May 31, 2011 -- became the hockey story of the season and for many fans outside of our city, the Jets became their second-favourite team.

So many reporters from TV and newspaper outlets across North America have whispered to me, "I wish the Jets had made the playoffs, I wanted to go there and see that scene so badly."

While May 31 will be the day we always remember as our return to the bigs, for me, the biggest moment came on June 4 when the other big question was answered: Will Winnipeg support the NHL at NHL prices?"

The answer was the most telling moment of where our city has come and what it is today. The tickets, just north of 13,000 season packages, were snatched up in minutes and under terms that will guarantee sellouts in Winnipeg for at least three years and more likely for seven when all contract terms and the waiting list are considered.

That moment will make May 31 a happy memory for years and years to come and not just another day we look back on with heartbreak. There was no guarantee Chipman's financial leap to buy a franchise would end in glory. But the success of the Drive to 13,000 put Winnipeg's NHL dream on solid footing.

It was one thing to hear Chipman's words on May 31, it was another to back them up on June 4.

Happy anniversary, Winnipeg. The first of many, thanks to you.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 31, 2012 C2

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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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