Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NHL dream moving closer to home

Prospect stoked about suiting up at MTS Centre

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As Winnipeggers sit on pins and needles waiting for the announcement that the National Hockey League is coming back, one young man is hoping just a little bit harder than everybody else.

Peter Stoykewych might seem like just another 18-year-old kid, but he's the only hockey player in the Atlanta Thrashers' system for whom the team's expected relocation would be a homecoming.

The 2010 graduate from St. John's-Ravenscourt School was selected in the seventh round of last year's NHL draft by the team that is widely expected to be playing out of the MTS Centre this fall. It's impossible for him to not think about the possibilities.

"It's really exciting. Playing in front of your home town is definitely something you always dream of, especially in the NHL, the best league in the world. Winnipeg fans are unlike any other fans," he said.

Stoykewych came up through the Winnipeg Minor Hockey Association, playing for the Monarchs, Wild and Winnipeg South Blues. Last year, he played for the Des Moines Buccaneers in the United States Hockey League, a junior league that allows players to retain their college eligibility.

The self-described defensive defenceman knows the next few years will be critical in his development so he's planning to go to school -- he's heading to Colorado College in Colorado Springs to play hockey this fall -- with a long-term goal of playing professionally.

"I know I'm still a long way away," he said.

He's not sure if he'll get an invitation to an NHL training camp this fall, but he'd go in a heartbeat. After all, it's only a 10-minute drive from his parents' house in Tuxedo.

Stoykewych has yet to be asked about Winnipeg by anybody in the Thrashers' system, but if the questions are put to him, he won't hesitate to sing the city's praises.

"I'd tell them there are some pretty passionate hockey fans around here. You wouldn't be able to walk down the street without being noticed, the spotlight would be on you and it's fun to play here," he said.

The weather, he was quick to note, wouldn't be a big deal. "You get used to it eventually. I'd say it's a non-factor. It's warm here in the summer," he said.

Oh, and if you think Stoykewych has the inside scoop on when the Thrashers' announcement will be made, when Gary Bettman's private plane will land at Richardson International Airport and whether the team will be called the Jets, don't bother.

"My buddies keep asking me but I tell them I don't know anything more than they do and I don't. I'm waiting, just like anybody else. And when it happens, I'll be just as excited as everybody else," he said.

Or maybe just a little bit more.

Dudley dressed in 99


PETER Stoykewych isn't the only Atlanta Thrashers' tie to Winnipeg. The team's general manager, Rick Dudley, played for the Winnipeg Jets back in the 1980-81 season.

He finished out his NHL career here by scoring five goals in 30 games, but his legacy isn't wrapped up in his statistics. The now 62-year-old went down in the team's history books as the only player to wear 99, a number made famous a couple of years earlier by a kid playing in Edmonton named Gretzky. Wilf Paiement of the Toronto Maple Leafs wore 99 for three years, too, starting in 1980.

Had all three been invited to play in the NHL All-Star Game in 1981, Dudley would have been given the first shot at wearing No. 99 because of his seniority in the league.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2011 C4

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