Winnipeg fans hope NHL Coyote woes lead to more teams in Canada

Winnipeg hockey fans, whose hearts were ripped out when their beloved Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes over a decade ago, are crossing their fingers in hopes the financially strapped NHL franchise could be returning to Canada.

The NHL has taken control of the cash-strapped Phoenix Coyotes

Winnipeg hockey fans, whose hearts were ripped out when their beloved Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes over a decade ago, are crossing their fingers in hopes the financially strapped NHL franchise could be returning to Canada.

They’re hoping a Coyotes move may pave the way for other cash-crunched U.S. sunbelt franchises to run for the border, which could be good news for them.

“I think this may start a house of cards,” said Darren Ford, who oversees the long-running “Return of the Jets” grassroots campaign to return NHL hockey to the Manitoba capital.

“The numbers are there. Winnipeg is a hockey hot bed. The fan base is here, the corporate support is here, the new arena is here. It’s only a matter of time.”

The Coyotes could be headed to southern Ontario if Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie gets his way.

On Tuesday, the co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion made a US$212.5-million offer to buy the Coyotes. The deal is conditional on moving the team to southern Ontario.

Winnipeg hasn’t seen NHL hockey since the Jets — hemorrhaging money and failing to find a new owner — moved to the desert in 1996.

They took with them almost a quarter-century of hockey memories from a team that was the flagship of the fledgling World Hockey Association in the 1970s, but failed miserably after joining the NHL in 1979.

Ford, whose pride and joy is an autographed rookie Teemu Selanne Jets jersey, says he has had more than two million hits in six years on his www.jetsowner.com website.

Fans log on in to discuss the latest relocation news or gnash their teeth over cities like Miami hosting NHL games where the empty seats outnumber fans two to one.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has never ruled out a return to Winnipeg, but has never given the idea any impetus either.

The league is now locked in a legal battle over the Coyotes, who had been losing money all season and needed cash infusions from the league. On Tuesday the team filed for bankruptcy protection and took steps to sell the team to Balsillie, bypassing normal league approval procedures.

Balsillie has been rebuffed in earlier attempts to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators with an eye to moving them to a market such as Hamilton or Kitchener-Waterloo.

The moves have angered the league’s upper echelon, and Ford says Balsillie may not be a good fit.

“He seems to be ticking the league off too much. I’m not sure I’d want a Jim Balsillie in Winnipeg’s corner,” he said.

Jets supporter Lauren Robb says Balsillie or not, he doesn’t want the franchise back. They were dogs, he says, long before they became desert dogs. In 17 seasons the team rarely made it out of the first round of the NHL playoffs.

“The whole franchise has been a failing non-event ever since it came into the league,” said Robb, who has chronicled the history of the Jets on www.winnipegjetsonline.com.

“But just coming up north (to Canada) is a good idea, to show if one team from the southern region fails and they’re able to move up north, that gives the idea to other failing southern teams.”

Robb, 32, says his fondest Jet memories are the “White Outs” — when fans jammed Winnipeg Arena in the playoffs, all dressed in white, blowing horns and waving flags.

“That was one of the loudest things I ever experienced,” said Robb. “We could be losing and we were still loud.”

As an 11-year-old, he was rinkside when Jets goalie Daniel Berthiaume broke a stick in pre-game warm-up, skated over and handed it to him.

“I held this thing like you wouldn’t believe through the entire game making sure no one took it from me. It was one of the greatest things.”

Just Posted

Lacombe council seeking answers about policing cost overruns

Council surprised to find out about $240,000 policing budget shortfall

Red Deer fundraiser to help educate Somali orphans on May 11

The Mother’s Day event is for all ages

Lacombe to join municipal coalition spreading the word about importance of resource industry

Resources Communities of Canada Coalition to represent municipalities connected to resource industry

These blues will get you dancing: The Overdue Blues Band performs in Red Deer Saturday

Calgary’s Brother Ray Lemelin Band is also on Elks Lodge bill

Gardening: Time and effort key to buying garden plants

Greenhouses, garden centers and box stores are set to start selling bedding… Continue reading

Montreal native Nicholas Latifi off to solid start on Formula 2 race circuit

Practice makes perfect for Canadian Nicholas Latifi. The 23-year-old Montreal auto racer… Continue reading

Bruins victory over Leafs ensures an American team will hoist the Stanley Cup

TORONTO — Many NHL players were either not yet born or too… Continue reading

Swole, buzzy, among new words in Merriam-Webster dictionary

BOSTON — Get swole, prepare a bug-out bag, grab a go-cup and… Continue reading

Garner graces cover of People’s annual ‘Beautiful Issue’

NEW YORK — Jennifer Garner graces the front of this year’s “Beautiful… Continue reading

Updated: Joshua Arthur Sanford has been found, says RCMP

37-year-old Ponoka man last seen on Tuesday morning

Inspired by a galaxy far, far away, these ‘Star Wars’ mementos could be yours forever

CHICAGO —The stuff of “Star Wars” —and there is unfortunately no better… Continue reading

Shoppers Drug Mart launches second online medical pot portal in Alberta

TORONTO — Medical cannabis users in Alberta can now get their therapeutic… Continue reading

Most Read