Local fans celebrate Jets return to Winnipeg

It’s more than official – the Winnipeg Jets are back. The owners of Winnipeg’s new NHL franchise made the fan’s choice of restoring the “Jets” nickname.

Don Thrush and his sons Andrew

Don Thrush and his sons Andrew

It’s more than official – the Winnipeg Jets are back.

The owners of Winnipeg’s new NHL franchise made the fan’s choice of restoring the “Jets” nickname.

The highly anticipated announcement came causally during the introduction of the team’s seventh pick at the NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn. on Friday.

The news was icing on the cake for Red Deer Jets’ fans who lost their heart for hockey when the Winnipeg franchise relocated to Phoenix in 1996.

The Winnipeg-based True North Sports and Entertainment Limited announced in May an NHL franchise would return to the western city.

And last week, the NHL’s board of governors approved the ownership transfer of the Atlanta Thrashers to the sports and entertainment company.

All the team needed was a name because the fans have long waited for the return of the NHL in Winnipeg.

Don Thrush, 44, grew up in Winnipeg and remembered as if it were yesterday when the Jets left.

“It was devastating,” recalled Thrush.

“Especially in the winter time because that’s what you did. You supported your Jets. You watched the Jets. You got together and you went to the games. It was like a big hole in the winter.”

He tried to cheer for the Phoenix Coyotes and Alberta’s two NHL teams.

“I couldn’t find a team to put my heart into,” said Thrush.

“Actually I haven’t been much of a hockey fan in that time.”

Thrush always hoped the NHL would return to Winnipeg. Now that it has Thrush is excited to watch games with his two young sons.

He has already circled March 9 on his calendar – when the Jets meet the Flames in Calgary, the franchise’s only appearance in Alberta in the 2011-2012 NHL season.

Suzanne Schollie, 45, hopes to make it to Winnipeg for a few games. Growing up in Brandon, Man., she remembers fondly the 1980s when defenceman Dave Babych held court at the blue line and when Dale Hawerchuk became synonymous with the Jets.

In the years after the Jets left, Schollie, failed to make a connection to the Coyotes because “you don’t feel it’s your team anymore once they belong to another city.”

But now the Jets are back, it is a whole new hockey game.

“I’m just really excited,” she said. “I think (the team) is going to last. I think they are going to have a pretty solid future there.”

Ken Kowalchuk, 39, another former Winnipegger, kept his Teemu Selanne Winnipeg jersey all these years after his dad sent it to him from Winnipeg when the team left. He has cheered for the six Canadian teams because he did not have a team he could call his own.

“It’s great to have another Canadian western team,” he said. “It will really enhance that rivalry.”

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com