Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Saying All The Right Things

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.

"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."
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".
"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!


Unknown said...

I'm so pumped to see Winnipeg playing again! Hope they become apart of the Northwest division though :( Anyways nice blog! Maybe if you get the time you can check mine out as well -

JeffB said...

When I was 13 I lost the team I loved, the Minnesota Fighting Saints. Then when I was 30 I had my NHL team ripped away from me for no other reason that greed when the North Stars were given to Dallas because of the actions of one man.

Teams are a community asset and their owners, no matter how long they have owned them or how long the team has been in the family, are temporary custodians of that team. Franchise "issues" which are always, always, always money related in the end, are temporary. Just take a look at how down Chicago and Pittsburgh once were. Those temporary problems should, in my opinion, never be an excuse to move a team or sell it to the highest bidder so they can move it. Stop looking outward to find blame for your problems, and look inward to fix what's wrong with your team, which is the product you put on the ice, field or court. It's generally pretty simple. Win and they will come. Don't say you need a new stadium to fix your income problems. Win a lot of games for an extended period of time, perhaps even a championship, and then ask to be rewarded with a new stadium. You'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

It's a shame the Jets ever had to move and it's a shame the Thrashers are now moving because whatever down period they may have been enduring is cyclical. It all just seems so short-sighted - again.

Atlanta looks bad today, but who says it would always be that way? Winnipeg looks fine today with a owner willing to spend, likely without profit for the sake of community because he's filthy rich, but what happens 10 years from now when he loses interest because his toy isn't so shiny anymore, he's had to endure big losses from some future down economy that has made him worth hundreds of millions of dollars less on paper, the Canadian dollar is again worth 57¢, the team may not have been winning for some time, they play in the smallest rink in the league by far and he want's to sell? No one in their right mind is going to want to own a team in such a small city with such a tiny arena.

Now what, move them to Seattle? I fear Winnipeg is a band-aid that will last as long as the owner likes his new purchase. Once that one man is out of the picture, we've seen what can happen just this week in Atlanta, which looked like such a great idea when Ted Turner and his money, and a brand new arena was involved, didn't it?

I not trying to rain on Winnipeg's parade by any means, and I'm happy the wrong of the Jets moving in the first place is being righted, but I'm disappointed that there wasn't more done to fix the situation in Atlanta. I suppose in the end it's the rich boys toys and they can do whatever they want with them, but it's really rotten when their short term failures can have such long term consequences for hundreds of thousands of fans.