Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/5/2011 (3035 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Car horns blew and throats were cheered raw and that wind that roared through Winnipeg's downtown?
It was a white-hot exhalation from a rowdy city that has been holding its breath for 15 years.
Hours before Mark Chipman leaned over a podium in a steamy room beneath the MTS Centre and told Winnipeg NHL hockey was coming home, fans were already flooding into downtown.
They rolled into the MTS Centre, where JP Jamieson and Neal Einarson plopped red chairs from the old Winnipeg Arena in front of the ticket booths in hopeful anticipation. They flowed down Portage and Main, where a dozen burly men clustered around the First World War statue and chanted "We want Teemu" as the intersection exploded into a chorus of honking horns.
And the party didn't stop until more than 5,000 revellers reached The Forks, which hosted a celebration city officials and police hoped would divert the crowd away from Winnipeg's most famous intersection.
That plan didn't work, and no wonder: The intersection has long been the gathering place for all things Jets-related. It was where the team signed superstar winger Bobby Hull in 1972. It was where thousands of fans rallied to save the team in 1995, and it was where a spontaneous gathering blossomed two weeks ago when word spread a real deal was close.
And by the time the deal was publicly made official, the crowd at Portage and Main had swelled to nearly 1,000 and police closed the streets to traffic. Fans in business suits topped by jerseys spilled into the road, standing on planters or perched atop the median. While the press conference beamed on the big screen, the crowd waited in an electric silence — a hush broken only by cheers for Chipman and Premier Greg Selinger, and the de rigeur boos for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
As the speeches closed, hollering fans struggled against the wind and the spitting rain to hold up a banner reading: "A whiteout can fix any mistake. Go Jets Go." Nearby, fan Cassidy Dankochik was already in party mode. Dankochik, 18, took the day off from his job at Gimli's New Iceland Heritage Museum, splotched some white face paint on his mug and headed downtown. "It's the Jets, man. Nothing bigger than the Jets," he said. "The Jets come back and Vancouver wins the Cup all in one year — and we can hate each other next year!"
And through the crowds and cheers, the fervent games of shinny and flagrantly enjoyed beers, one question hung in the damp air: When exactly did everyone in Winnipeg acquire a Jets jersey? Because they all had them, from teens too young to remember a single Jets game, to a steely haired man wearing a holey vintage jersey and flipping pucks at the city's most famous corner.
At The Forks, a bevy of local politicians came bedecked in Jets gear: Winnipeg South MP Rod Bruinooge was spotted in a personalized jersey, while Tory MLA Hugh McFadyen — who famously made bringing back the Jets a centrepiece of his 2007 campaign — celebrated his birthday by donning his Jets jersey for the festivities.
Meanwhile, Mayor Sam Katz led Coun. Scott Fielding and former Jet, Coun. Thomas Steen, in a city council conga line that snaked around The Forks' jam-packed centre canopy. "When are the Winnipeg Jets coming back? Today!" Katz yelled before launching the conga line.
Katz wasn't the only reveller at The Forks who came ready to shake his money-maker. In fact, the most famously mobile Jets fan of all was one of the first at the scene. "I'm ready to dance," shouted 'Dancing' Gabe Langlois. "It's going to be the greatest day in Winnipeg sports history."
That was a sentiment shared by thousands — including a few who had been a part of sports history themselves. Before DJ Co-op and DJ Hunnicutt started spinning big beats, a passel of former NHL players — including Steen, Billy Lesuk and Russ Romaniuk — took to The Forks' small stage to cheer the news. "I think it's a great day for the city," said Ab McDonald, the first captain the Jets ever had.
"It was tough (to lose them) but it is sweet now. A lot of people said it wouldn't happen — and not in my lifetime — but I'd say, 'We'll get it back with a new arena.' "
When The Forks tried to wind down its party around 6 p.m., a swollen band of rowdy fans trekked back to Portage and Main, where despite dreary skies and a chilling wind, the party resumed in full force. Men even stripped down to their skivvies to clutch at street signs and cheer at passing cars, before being ushered away by police before 7 p.m.
Maybe they should have stayed where they were. Despite the official party wrapping up in the early evening, by 9 p.m. fans were still streaming under the canopy, toting hockey sticks and filling the air with the deafening cheers and the familiar chant: "Go Jets go!"
Police officers lined the walls of Johnston Terminal, waiting and watching as the well-lubricated crowd of about 1,000 sent bodies crowd-surfing under a waving Jets flag.
Shortly before 10 p.m., police issued a notice asking people to stay away from The Forks, as they began to remove "unruly people" from the area.
Many in the crowd shook their heads, saying they'd never seen anything like the bash that unfolded — but they weren't surprised that a generation that had never known a local NHL team would be so enthused.
firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.