Good day, Winnipeg.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/5/2011 (3799 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


Good day, Winnipeg.

Welcome back to the NHL.

Take a bow.

Actually, take two bows.

One for fighting and getting your NHL franchise back.

And another for your resilience. The NHL leaving certainly didn't ruin Winnipeg and its return will make it better, but not define it.

Winnipeg may once again be an NHL town but that's not all we are, as has been demonstrated over the last 15 years.

Our community has taken a lot of bashing, but through it all Winnipeggers stood proud and together while moving forward.

We did not cease to exist. We didn't roll up the sidewalks. We didn't quit.

No, we thrived.

That's the real victory here.


Then-assistant coach Randy Carlyle said it best that sad spring night in 1996 when he said to the assembled at the Winnipeg Arena, "They can take away your team, but they can't take away your heart."

It could not have been said better. Or proven to be more true.

Winnipeg trudged on with a heavy heart, but like a community that spends half its time buried under snow -- we dealt with the issue.

This community gets drilled with adversity on a regular basis and simply juts out its collective chin and wades into the storm.

Like we said, take a bow.

While we're on the subject of taking bows, step aside for Mark Chipman's gang at True North Sports & Entertainment.

Chipman, who was just a runt on the Winnipeg power scene when the Jets left in 1996, had a vision to keep pro hockey alive and hopefully see the day when the NHL returned.

That vision was one thing, but it needed time and lots of nourishment.

Chipman carried the ball alone to start, slowly adding teammates until he had a championship crew able to run and grow a first-rate organization.

Craig Heisinger, Jim Ludlow, Kevin Donnelly, John Olfort, Norva Riddell and Robert Thorsten in the big offices and folks like Scott Brown, Dorian Morphy, Kyle Balharry, Jeff Mager, Linzy Jones, Mark Grehan, Bruce Southern and Rob Millette in the day-to-day trenches.

We can't name them all here but True North has become a big-league operation mostly because it has big-league people on its roster.

There will be lots of talk about David Thomson's bucks making this deal happen, but that's just not so.

Surely, Thomson being added to play right wing on a line centred by Chipman helped add some scoring punch, but the son of self-made car dealer Robert Chipman has done most of the ditch-digging on this deal.

Chipman was one of the Save the Jets gang back in 1996 and when that venture failed and most of the zealots headed for the hills, the young lawyer just back from a few years in the United States wouldn't quit.

There's a saying about the first generation making the money and the second spending it. When Mark Chipman went to his dad to talk about buying a professional hockey team there was potential for just such an outcome.

The Minnesota Moose of the old IHL were for sale and the Chipmans, total neophytes in the business of pro sport, gambled to bring them north to Winnipeg.

For Winnipeggers, still stinging from the loss of their beloved Jets, the IHL and the Manitoba Moose were dirty words and for some, so was Chipman.

An ill-hatched line of logic was born stating the IHL and the Chipmans were standing in the way of the return of the NHL.

The reality, however, was Chipman was slowly building a reputation in the hockey world. A reputation Gary Bettman and the NHL would eventually take notice of and one that would play a major role in determining Winnipeg did, indeed, belong back in the NHL.

Bettman has gone on the record to say a market needs three things for an NHL franchise to be a viable: market, building and ownership.

Chipman would eventually supply two of three with his ownership group and the MTS Centre.

It would take longer to convince Bettman of the third but Chipman championed Winnipeg and eventually, his message was heard.

The early days weren't exactly smooth, as the Moose lost money and the Chipmans made some management gaffes.

Hiring former Habs coach and Stanley Cup winner Jean Perron seemed like an astute hire, but it wasn't. Chipman and his coach/GM didn't mesh and the club underperformed.

Perron infamously chirped about ownership to the media and dared the boss to sack him. Then he called a press conference to wail when Chipman called his bluff and terminated him.

The first season was a disaster, as folks stayed away and the team lost on the ice. A worse set of circumstances could not have been dreamed up. A market skeptical about the product in the first place was delivered a loser and turned its back.

It took sweat, money and patience to win them back. But it happened. Winnipeggers never grew to love the Moose like they did their Jets, but they did come to appreciate them.

True North has a mantra about hiring good people above talented people. There's nothing wrong if they have both attributes, but it's the former that gets people through the door.

No doubt this core value comes from Chipman, and after some early hard lessons and a lot of red ink, people like Carlyle the coach and Heisinger the general manager began to form an organization that focused on doing things a certain way and setting high standards.

While the organization flourished in front of him, Chipman began to stretch the horizon. Winnipeg had pro hockey -- now it needed a new rink.

Quietly and without any delusions of grandeur, the Chipman family started to talk to the political and business communities about a new downtown building.

In 2004 the MTS Centre opened downtown and as people walked in to see their new rink, almost immediately, thoughts of the NHL started to brew.

Chipman was a step ahead and before he signed off on final plans, he made a discreet call to the NHL to inquire about league bylaws regarding the size of a rink.

Revenue, not number of seats, was what counts, came the answer and Chipman confidently signed off.

Surely, league executives could not have known they would one day be approving that building as one of their own but Chipman had planted the seed -- in his own mind, in Winnipeg's and with the NHL.

Time moved on, and the Moose, now downtown in their own building and part of the larger True North entity, became known as the 31st-best organization in hockey.

Only NHL operations ran at a higher rate, was the word on the street. Five-star hotels, the best coaches and six-figure salaries for elite veterans. Even a chartered jet for some trips.

Three straight coaches left the Moose for the NHL: Carlyle, Alain Vigneault and Scott Arniel.

Endless players graduated from Manitoba to the world's best league; players like Conn Smythe candidate Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks.

Something was cooking on the Prairies, and the hockey world couldn't help but notice.

Chipman, watching it all, was galvanized. Where once talk of the return of the NHL had been forbidden -- now it was obvious nothing else would do.

The economy in Winnipeg and a strong Canadian dollar pushed some wind into the sail and rough waters for franchises throughout the Southern U.S. created a perfect storm.

True North was ready and Winnipeg was ready. But only because Chipman was first and had dragged them along.

Make no mistake, this party we're having, this rush of big-league adrenaline, it all circles back to the one-time St. Paul's Crusaders quarterback and Tuesday-night beer league blue-liner named Mark Chipman.

So while we're busy taking our bows as a province, we should make a little time for a Manitoba-wide standing ovation.

Bravo, Mark Chipman. Bravo.