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Shenkarow says stay the course

Ex-owner feels NHL bound to return, but we must trust Bettman

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The former largest ownership partner and president of the Winnipeg Jets thinks the city is on the right track back to the NHL.

Barry Shenkarow, in a rare interview Wednesday night, said that a calm resolve on the home front and current economics in certain league locations favour Winnipeg.

He declined to share his opinion on recent events -- that True North Sports and Entertainment has been negotiating with the NHL and appears poised to be the solution to any relocation problem -- but immediately said, "I think sooner or later Winnipeg will get a team."

"By default we're a way better market than Tampa or Nashville or Phoenix or whatever," Shenkarow said. "I don't know (if it happens) sooner or later. But I think the people should listen to what (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman says. They attack Gary Bettman but he's doing for Phoenix no different than what he did for Winnipeg. He wanted to keep the team in Winnipeg and people didn't listen to him.

"His job is to keep the team in Phoenix. There will come a time when one of these teams will be available and will come to Winnipeg. They shouldn't criticize him; he's just doing his job. I know we want a team and the best path to get a team is to listen to what he's saying and I give Mark (Chipman) a lot of credit because I think he's doing it properly, unlike (Jim) Balsillie, who went off the rails."

While Shenkarow endorsed the advice Bettman gave to fans two weeks ago in the in the Free Press -- ignore every rumour -- he offered one piece of counsel to the group that's trying to land a franchise.

"The only thing I would say is remember there are 30 owners in the NHL, all of whom one Gary Bettman works for and two, you can't beat them, you have to join them," Shenkarow said. "They're all successful business people. They already own franchises and you're not going to pull and end-run on them.

"In order for Winnipeg to get a franchise, go step by step by step and slowly but surely, and let the league have confidence in the ownership."

The man who was at the helm of the NHL franchise from 1979 until its departure for Phoenix in 1996 said he no longer has any connection to the team, including the Jets name and the logos.

"No, no. The league owns those," Shenkarow said. "Remember, we did not have proprietary interest in the hockey team. We held it for the people of Winnipeg. If a team comes back to Winnipeg, it will be up to whoever brings a team back to decide on the name."

Does he think it should be called the Jets if it ever returns?

"That's a loaded question," Shenkarow smiled. "I never thought the Jets was the greatest name. But there's a history to the name. My guess is that the people of Winnipeg will insist it's called the Jets. With good reason, they saw a lot of great hockey and fond memories."

Since the Jets' departure, many Winnipeggers were unaware that Shenkarow still lived in the city.

"There was a story after the team left Winnipeg that I moved to Phoenix," he said of the low-key life he chooses. "That was wrong. I've lived here the whole time. I love Winnipeg. My whole family lives here. So it's not true.

"When the team left, I went away for three months with my family to get a separation from what was. And I came back and went into business with my sons-in-law.

"Hockey is such an emotional thing to everybody. It was almost like, cut the leg off and get it over with. It required a separation."

Shenkarow has kept in touch with several of his former NHL colleagues but said in his opinion, it's impossible to be active in that circle without being in it.

"I like a lot of the people who are in hockey but you can't... they're up to here (points to his neck) in hockey. You're either in the water or you're not."

Does he miss the NHL business?

"I loved the people and I loved the business," he said. "I hated the politics of Winnipeg. I think that if people and the media particularly had listened to what I was saying, the team would probably still be here. But the media in its desire to jump on whatever bandwagon they thought was going to keep the team here I think got it wrong."

Shenkarow granted Wednesday's interview after being honoured with the Max and Mollie Shore Memorial Award at the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg's annual Kavod Evening, a celebration and salute of community volunteerism.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2010 C1

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