No need for a drum roll or a pregnant pause. The biggest sports story of 2011 was the return of the Winnipeg Jets.
Try as they might, True North couldn't keep this story under wraps, and as they neared completion on a deal with the owners of the Atlanta Thrashers to buy the franchise and relocate it to Winnipeg, this city could barely contain itself.
The year 2011 will be remembered for many things, but when most Winnipeggers look back at these 12 months, the return of their beloved Jets will be the No. 1 memory.
Here's our take on the Winnipeg sports scene in 2011:
1. NHL returns
On May 31, Mark Chipman assembled a head table in the basement of the MTS Centre that included NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and True North partner David Thomson, and then made the announcement Winnipeg hockey fans had been waiting 15 years to hear. Chipman told the assembled dignitaries, media and fans watching on TV around the world that he and his partner had purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and would be moving them to Winnipeg. The cheering at MTS Centre has stopped at times to take a breath, but it's been an onslaught of noise as fans have screamed, shouted and celebrated the return of the NHL.
2. Drive to 13,000
Getting the NHL back was one thing, but still there were doubters within the hockey world, and Winnipeg, for that matter. Those doubts were quickly scrubbed as True North asked the public to purchase 13,000 season tickets. The tickets sold in a matter of days. More remarkably, after Moose season ticket holders had first crack at available seats, the remaining contracts were snapped up in seconds on a warm Saturday morning in June. The corporate community also got in on the act, signing long-term contracts for suites and sponsorship packages to give the Jets an immediate solid financial foundation.
3. Rick Rypien
The Jets were having a fine summer when tragedy struck. Rick Rypien was found dead in his Alberta home just weeks after signing a free-agent contract to join the Jets. Rypien had battled depression for a number of years, but appeared to be heading in the right direction. He was due in Winnipeg that weekend to begin a new chapter in his NHL career.
4. Richard Harris
Bombers defensive line and assistant head coach Richard Harris suffered a massive heart attack in the team's offices and died. Harris was beloved by players, fans and management around the CFL. His funeral drew players and coaches from around the league and a eulogy given by then-Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Greg Marshall was a fitting and touching send-off to one of the game's great men.
5. The Name
Chipman ended weeks of speculation on June 24 at the NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn., when he introduced GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and almost whispered, "will make our first pick, on behalf of the Winnipeg Jets." The arena in St. Paul exploded, as did the MTS Centre, where fans had congregated to watch the draft proceedings. Names like Polar Bears and Falcons had been considered, but the public sentiment for Jets eventually won out.
6. The Game
On Oct. 9, the rest of the hockey world stopped to look in on Winnipeg and were awestruck with what they saw. The Jets hosted the Montreal Canadiens for the first regular-season NHL game in Winnipeg since the franchise had left for Phoenix 15 years earlier. Bettman was cheered and the Habs were jeered as a sold-out MTS Centre rocked with enthusiasm and swayed with emotion. The Habs won easily, but as the game ended, the fans got to their feet and gave the Jets another standing ovation. The NHL was back in Winnipeg.
7. Grey Cup
With the Jets taking up more than their share of the hoopla, Paul LaPolice's Winnipeg Blue Bombers were having a season to remember of their own. The Bombers broke out to a 7-1 mark before settling back to earth in the final stretch of the season. The final standings saw the Bombers hang on to first in the East and host the division final in the last game to be played at Canad Inns Stadium. The Bombers dispatched the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and travelled West to Vancouver for the Grey Cup, where they were mauled by the B.C. Lions.
8. The jersey
On a hot summer day on the tarmac at Wing 17, the Jets unveiled their new jerseys. Fighter pilots, jets and the Jets were all pulled together to show the world the new uniform. The jerseys and logo have been a hit with fans and the merchandise sales have exceeded expectations. True North has opened a store in St. Vital and demand for many items has outstripped supply.
9. Doug Brown says goodbye
He hasn't made it official, but Canadian-born defensive lineman Doug Brown is preparing to move into the next stage of his life. After 10 years as a dominant player in the CFL, Brown will now likely move into broadcasting, perhaps coaching. Brown is a sure-fire hall of famer, and after numerous awards as a player, leaves the game with only one thing missing -- a championship.
10. Buff gets busted
With the city of Winnipeg hot and heavy to greet the Jets, news broke out of Minnesota that on the night of Aug. 31, Dustin Byfuglien had been arrested on suspicion of boating while intoxicated. Charges were eventually filed and Byfuglien will eventually stand trial in Minnesota. The story made headlines across Canada. However, the Jets' best defenceman arrived in Winnipeg in time for training camp weighing 265 pounds, not the widely reported 286 pounds.
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