David Thomson is a little different than most of us Winnipeggers, but in one way he is very similar -- in his devotion to the Winnipeg Jets.
The Toronto-based head of Canada's pre-eminent business family, Thomson is Mark Chipman's partner in the Jets. What started as a simple real estate deal almost a decade ago has flourished into a stake in the team and the community.
Winnipeg was a stop on Thomson's early wanderings through the family business operations and now, many years later, it's become much more than just another town with a company office.
Thomson made himself available for a short chat in a club room at the MTS Centre prior to Saturday's regular-season finale.
FP: Are you glad you did this, bought the Jets?
DT: "Euphoric. Absolutely euphoric. It's beyond any measure in terms of its meaning and its significance."
FP: You've made lots of business deals in your life. How does this rate?
DT: "This is so far beyond any business deal. I told another chap that this was a quality of life decision and I'd just like to underline that. Everything else flows from making decisions from the heart and I think every one of our fans would agree."
FP: Do you sense a resurgence in Winnipeg?
DT: "I catch a resurgence here for sure. It's no secret the leadership of the province has been inspired. It's been inspired for some time and they've really balanced so much of the industry and tackled extraordinary issues such as the blighted communities of the North and allowed sections of the province to recover and to thrive."
FP: How many games did you see this year?
DT: I tried to watch every one, but in person, four.
FP: What's the experience like for you, whether in person or on TV?
DT: "The sensation is surreal. To be so deeply connected and to have the contest unravel with all the emotions and the to and fro. Some days, not quite as well as one would like. The alignment to the players, the team, the coach and the fans and seeing their reactions and the pleasure and the pride."
FP: What went through your mind when the Jets were eliminated from the playoffs?
DT: "I felt terribly proud that we'd run such a marvellous course. The players just gave everything. To be honest, while it would have been marvellous to have made the playoffs, I felt we had given ourselves a more profound foundation for next year and beyond."
FP: When Mark Chipman suggested you two partner to buy this team, there must have been a discussion about its potential for profitability. Some outsiders have suggested you were brought in to be Winnipeg's "sugar daddy." Was the news that the team would not qualify for league subsidy because it was one of the NHL's top 15 teams in terms of hockey-related revenue a comforting surprise?
DT: "We (Thomson and Chipman) had the benefit of being partners for many years, so the qualities of each are known to each. We all believed we had a very fine chance of moving beyond the waterfall and standing on our own without subsidy. This wasn't just an important place to reach as an economic or business point. More than that it stated to the community and the world that no subsidies are needed in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Period."
FP: Chipman is more hands-on but you also have a major financial and emotional stake in the team. Is it hard for you sit back and let the plan progress at the pace set out by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, or are you tempted to pull out your chequebook and say, "Here, here's more money. Buy me a winner?"
DT: "It's the opposite. It's the opposite if anything. I've learned to be more patient and I'm extremely patient. I have the utmost respect for Mark and Kevin and the entire crew. If anything, I'm there to ensure we take the long-term view and we do the right things. Actually, I'm not needed. It's a good thing I am in the background. We understood from the outset this was going to be our approach."
FP: What's been your favourite moment?
DT: "The favourite moment has been the fans and seeing the reaction they've had to having their team back. It just touches the heart. There are moments for me where strangers come up to me and look me in the eye and thank me and I'm still to this day dumbfounded and don't know what to say because the privilege is entirely mine."
FP: There's a bar in Toronto called Motel owned by a couple of ex-Winnipeggers. They show Jets games and it's become quite a place for fans to meet and watch games. Have you ever snuck in wearing a hat and sunglasses?
DT: "No. But what I do is, I have a Jets T-shirt and I take it or wear it just about everywhere I go. I can wear it underneath a shirt or take it when I'm travelling and have in the hotel room or when I'm working out. I'm immensely proud to be a part of this team and this province and the whole aura of the Jets.
FP: Lots of people in Toronto have asked me how they can get the TSN Jets channel in Toronto. Do you have some sort of Batman Jets gadget that lets you get the channel in Toronto?
DT: "I watch many of the games on the NHL site which I am privileged to connect to and often get quite good streaming from. Otherwise I just watch on TSN or CBC. I look up where the game is broadcast and tune in or use the NHL site. No, there's no special hookup. Somehow that just wouldn't feel right."
FP: Were you a Leafs fan growing up? And is this now the strongest attachment you've ever had to a team?
DT: "I was a Leafs fan until 1970 when they traded Bob Pulford to the L.A. Kings. My allegiance was splintered, but more towards L.A. But there's no question that this extends beyond anything I could have imagined in terms of attachment."
FP: Do you ever scribble out a power-play idea for Claude Noel on a cocktail napkin?
DT: "No. No. That would be a line I would not wish to cross. But I do enjoy deeply those times we are able to interact and he can relay his feelings. Often we'll trade analogies. I will offer him business tales that seem to relate to the issues he's grappling with."
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