Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

We are the champions

Winnipeg fans and their Jets just what the NHL needs now

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All over the NHL today, observers will be looking for signs of distress. While they'll find it in some places, they will not in Winnipeg.

The building will be full, faces will be painted, jerseys will be purchased and voices will grow hoarse. It will be, in a word, wild.

There will be no lockout hangover here. That nasty piece of labour business is over and behind us. People here may have a bit of a sour taste in their mouths, but they're eager to wash it out with a hefty dose of hockey.

 

They'll begin to get it today.

If Gary Bettman needs a lift, he will turn his satellite dish toward Winnipeg and watch the proceedings here. There will be no better place on the planet to watch a hockey game today.

The only negative noise to be heard in Winnipeg this week centred around tickets and how to get them. There aren't enough to go around and as a province we're conducting one giant experiment in sharing. It seems that can sometimes that can lead to a little grief.

Be it access card, printed ticket or emailed barcode, there will be no empty seats at the MTS Centre today. Or next week or next month or next year.

The question has been asked whether the lockout only served to whet Winnipeggers' appetite for the NHL. It would appear so.

It will be impressive and loud and passionate. Another day of hockey magic in Winnipeg, where a memorable story is being written. One that is only just beginning.

As wonderful as last season was and as fun as this year promises to be, the real glory is still a few seasons away.

Maybe the Jets will sneak into the post-season this year but they're not ready to be contenders. That day, however, is coming and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is taking careful steps to guarantee it.

Winnipeg is about to further establish itself as an NHL franchise to be envied. Profitable, responsibly run and madly supported. The Green Bay of the NHL without the whopping national TV-contract subsidy.

There are still those that doubt our city's suitability for the NHL. They simply don't understand or don't care to acknowledge us. They have some fiction in their minds of an NHL that exists only in New York and Toronto. Or one where larger U.S. cities are actually hockey markets, despite years of evidence to the contrary.

The NHL isn't automatically successful in a market because it has a large TV reach. It works where people want to watch hockey and are willing to pay for the experience. Winnipeg has that down. Just watch.

The reality, and I know I'm preaching to the choir here, is that Winnipeg is exactly what the NHL needed last season and is exactly what the NHL needs going forward.

A city with people willing to pay NHL prices for NHL hockey. No giveaways. No $15 tickets. A building to suit our city and a classic case of supply and demand.

This market works. Now, armed with a more friendly CBA, Winnipeg and its Jets are poised to step into a new era of NHL hockey on the Canadian prairie.

The fans have done their part, pouring cash into the franchise to feed its economic engine. Now the organization must fulfill its end of the bargain and provide a winner.

The Jets appear to be making headway in that department. While this year may or may not be another difficult one on the ice, the signs of progress are there to see.

Winnipeg's young players like Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane are on the edge of stardom. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has drafted blue-chippers like Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba that should be top-end NHL players once they arrive.

The Jets have positioned themselves to be buyers this coming off-season and have six picks in the first three rounds of a draft class that is being touted as the best in almost a decade.

The draft-and-develop approach is making gains, but it takes time.

That's OK. Winnipeg's hockey fans aren't going anywhere. That's the best guarantee in all of hockey. Big market or small.

 

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2013 C2

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