With today being the first official Wednesday that I can devote to Winnipeg's newest NHL team, it feels a little funny because Wednesdays were most often devoted to Winnipeg's AHL team in the Manitoba Moose. However, with this blog's focus now changing slightly to accommodate the new team, you're going to see a few more articles regarding the "Winnipeg NHLers", a name that will reportedly be resolved once the NHL Board of Governors has rubber-stamped the purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers by True North Sports and Entertainment. Because it seems that nothing can stand in the way of this sale as far as the NHL is concerned, I thought it might be prudent to see what the current players of the Atlanta Thrashers are saying about the move.
Of course, we all remember what Ilya Bryzgalov said about Winnipeg when it was thought that the Phoenix Coyotes were on their way back to Winnipeg. After that insanity, it appears that the Russian free agent won't be signed by the Thrashers unless there's some sort of minor miracle.
There are a pile of players, though, that seem to be excited to play in Winnipeg. One of those players is American-born Rob Schremp. He last visited Winnipeg in 2006-07 as a member of the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. When speaking to the CBC's Doug Harrison, Schremp said,
"What I like about playing in Canada is the fans hold you accountable. They know when you've done something good and they give it to you when you've done something bad. You don't want to get booed out of your building or have your own fans at the grocery store telling you how bad you played.24 year-old Blake Wheeler is a Minnesota native, and he experienced the loss of the North Stars as a youngster. While Wheeler only spent two months with the Thrashers following his trade from Boston, Wheeler told Mr. Harrison that he thinks the move to hockey-mad Winnipeg will be quite a change from what he experienced in "Dixie".
"I think the guys are real excited about it. It's a chance to play in Canada and there's a lot of Canadian guys on the team."
"These fans have been waiting for a team for 15 years, so it's going to be really exciting to finally see what everyone's thinking up there. And to see that building the first night is going to be quite an experience."Vancouver-born Evander Kane is looking forward to playing under scrutiny from the fans. The former Vancouver Giant experienced enough of it when he played for his hometown WHL team, but he told Rogers Sportsnet that he's looking forward to the challenge.
"For me, playing in a Canadian city there is a lot more pressure and you're definitely under the microscope a lot more and that's something I'm looking forward to. I played junior in Vancouver and it's a pretty high-profile junior market, so there's definitely attention. And playing in the NHL in a Canadian market, there is going to be a lot of attention."Goaltender Chris Mason was born in Red Deer, Alberta, and he remembers the loss of the Jets. When asked for his thoughts on the move, Mason told Ken Wiebe of the Toronto Sun,
"I’m a fan of hockey as well. It’s pretty neat to be going somewhere that’s so excited and so ready to have a team. I can’t imagine how the people there felt. You know the history with the Jets and everything. Every Canadian kid grew up watching the Jets. It was terrible when they left, not just for the people of Winnipeg but for everyone in Canada."So it sounds as though the players are excited to be moving to Winnipeg despite the difficulties in selling homes and packing up their wares back in Atlanta. Personally, the outlook from the players is refreshing after hearing all the pundits and naysayers talk about how attracting players to Winnipeg will be a challenge. While there still may be a challenge, those under contract seem legitimately happy to be heading north, and that's a good sign for the fans and the team.
As it stands right now, just over 1800 season tickets have been sold in Winnipeg's Drive To 13,000 season tickets. It's a great start just one day into the season ticket drive, and the outlook is bright for having a full building on opening night and every other night in Winnipeg's first season in the NHL since 1996. Here's hoping that the enthusiasm showed by both the players and the fans turns into something extraordinary this season!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!