Hey all! In case you haven't been keeping up with your calendar, datebook or IPhone (seriously, who uses Blackberries!? Psssh!) May 31st is a very significant day in the history of Winnipeg sports. One year ago today, Mark Chipman of True North Sports and Entertainment along with business partner David Thompson and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the NHL's return to Winnipeg.
Here is Part II of today's two-part series, this time, from a Winnipeggers perspective. Part I can be found HERE.
Ed. Note: Reader beware, casual usage of swear words will take place after the jump.
BUZZ..... BUZZ.... BUZZ....
"Urgh, shut up."
BUZZ.... BUZZ.... BUZZ....
"Urgh, I really wish you would shut the hell up..."
BUZZ.... BUZZ.... BUZZ....
This was my thought process around 6:30AM that Tuesday morning. The sun was peeking through the blinds of my parents spare bedroom, where I was house-sitting while they were out of continent -- surely living the carefree life -- as I was left behind to keep to their affairs during their three week absence.
It was a pretty easy gig and I had no qualms with some of the perks, including the unlimited pantry that was now at my disposal. Living on my own for the previous ten months had taught me some of the finer points of life that I was no longer privy to, this being one of them. While it was always a good feeling to roll into mom and dad's knowing there would be food to make, it was difficult for me to rationalize that by staying there, I would have to get up an hour earlier to commute to work.
"Fuck this," I thought as I tossed and turned in bed, too lazy to bring myself upright and walk the three steps it took to shut off my alarm before snuggling back beneath the blankets for an extra ten minutes or so. Finally, the constant buzzing of the alarm clock was too much to bare. I coaxed my body into motion. My feet hit the warm sun-soaked carpet and I set forth to shutting up the infernal buzzing. Upon my return to bed, I realized that the screen of my IPhone was illuminated as though I had just received a notification of some kind. I reached over to the night table to switch it from vibrate to ring.
"Four new messages?" That's extremely unusual for a weekday morning.
As I flipped through my phone, I did a double take upon reading the first message:
"Darren Dreger is confirming that the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers will be formally announced today. The NHL is returning to Winnipeg!" (I'm sure there were more exclamation marks at the end of that sentence and that my friends, in their haste, probably misspelled a word or two.)
This news wasn't a total surprise, given Stephen Brunt had unceremoniously tipped off all of Canada to the fact that the sale was a strong possibility only weeks earlier. Plus, given my field of employment, the NHL's return was the worst kept secret around the office. It wasn't a matter of if at this point, but rather, when.
Still, I hadn't anticipated it to come to a conclusion this soon. I was stunned as I checked my other three messages, which more or less contained the same detail of information.
I was still weary about it.
Being the jerk who texts his friends on Trade Deadline Day with false information in hopes that they will spread the erroneous gossip onwards, I figured this was some sort of teamed retaliation out to make me look like the foolish one.
I logged on to Twitter.
Only a few tweets in, there was Dreger's retweet. And again. And again. And again. It must have been retweeted at least ten times.
The NHL was returning to Winnipeg.
Mouth agape, I sat there frozen by the magnitude of what this day would present. "Soak it all in man," I told myself. "Today you will witness an epic display of civic pride." I then quickly shifted gears, realizing that I was going to be super late for work if I didn't hurry up. That, and I had to take care of my terrible morning breath.
I shifted from dormant to wide awake in a mere matter of seconds. I was excited to be part of the hugest story this hockey fan would ever witness with his own eyes -- even better than watching the Hershey Bears dismantle the Manitoba Moose in the 2009 Calder Cup Finals. *ba-dum-tsh!*
Within half an hour, I was on my way to the office.
In the car, I had the radio tuned to TSN 1290. Their morning broadcast noted that at 11:00AM CST, they would break from programming to cover a live press conference being held at the MTS Centre.
"This is really happening", I thought giddily.
I checked Twitter again.
Darren Ford was speculating that the new franchise would be named the Polar Bears as someone inside the MTS Centre was leaking out information.
My office is literally made of windows that look out onto where Main Street intersects with Portage Avenue. By 8:30, there were two young men clad in their Jets gear brown bagging it. Later the would drape their drunken bodies over the First World War Soldier stationed in front of the Bank of Montreal, encouraging the daily commuters to honk their horns as they cheered Go Jets Go. Soon a gaggle of people were assembling across from the two drunks at the CIBC.
Meanwhile, I was sitting at my desk trying my damnedest to look busy.
A coworker of mine -- lets call him Michael -- was a new intern at the office. He hadn't heard of the news before coming into the office. By 9:30 that morning, he had left the office "sick", only to have his picture plastered all over the news on Wednesday. Weeks later, he was no longer working with us. That's how important this day was to some people.
Time continued to slowly tick by as more people began making their way downtown. Finally, 11:00 o'clock was upon us. Half of our office shut down as we huddled around a 17 inch television in the break room, fighting for a clear sightline, and anxious to celebrate the announcement together.
Sportsnet cut away from their studio panel to a shot of Gary Bettman flanked by David Thompson and Mark Chipman as they made their way towards the podium, through the halls of the MTS Centre.
My palms were sweating in anticipation.
After Scott Brown addressed the pack of reporters in attendance, he ceded the floor to Mark Chipman. Mark talked a bit about the construction of the MTS Centre, the affiliation of the Manitoba Moose with the AHL and his interactions with Gary Bettman which started in the early 2000s. It ended up being a gruelling seven minute explanation of how today had come to be. Fans truly didn't care for the semantics, they just wanted to plunge head-first into the elation of the actual news: The NHL was returning to Winnipeg.
A forceful and spirited roar swelled up from Portage Avenue as Chimpan announced that indeed, the NHL was coming back. Fans rejoiced and wept together in front of the big screen adjacent to the Canwest Building -- which was streaming the live press conference -- as Jim Ludlow continued with the announcement of the Drive to 13,000.
The grin on my face was a mile wide. The rapidity in which this all came together still had my mind wrapped up like a pretzel. I was in complete amazement.
But while my co-workers blissfully continued in their merriment, I was struck by a brief moment of clarity -- The Atlanta Thrashers were no more. Erased from existence. Extinct. This meant that banners, jerseys and staff all would be eradicated from the Phillips Arena in Atlanta, GA. Soon, an entire record book would be washed away, only kept alive by a core group of fans who wouldn't let the sport of hockey die in their hearts.
Urgh, those poor bastards. They may have been few in numbers, but they were no less fans than Tim in White Ridge or Brenda in Transcona.
And yet, we as a fan base had been through this once before. The callousness with which we treated these southerners had me reeling. There was nary a dry eye in the Winnipeg Arena that spring on '96 and yet we couldn't even bother to take pause in the weeks leading up to this announcement to say, "sorry Thrashers fans, we can relate". It was asinine. Our collective lack of concern perpetuated with it a stigma that we were a holier-than-thou type of city, which is most certainly a falsehood. To those who dedicated their lives to the twelve year existence of the Atlanta Thrashers, I say to you this: your team is in good hands and we are not nearly as boorish as originally perceived.
That empathetic moment -- while important for me -- would pass. I looked back outside to see that Portage and Main had completely blocked off traffic and there was a street hockey game that had started up out of thin air. The goalie -- a child no older than ten -- was stonewalling kids almost twice his age while donning a blue vintage Winnipeg Jets jersey. He was one of the hundreds of patrons who at this point were living in the moment, giving themselves into the electric rock-concert feel that was evolving at street level.
I decided it was time that I got out and submerge myself in the event. Snapping pictures with my phone, high-fiving random strangers and chugging a beer while on work hours (sorry Corporate!) was all part of this once in a lifetime experience. The party was escalating to a stupor. Further police reinforcement was being called in -- just as a precautionary measure -- to try to peacefully guide the throng of humanity towards The Forks. Finally, the crowd subsided and made their way to the historic meeting place where they would party into the night.
While the weather dampened later in the day, our spirits did not. I met up with some friends after I was finished the 9-5 and we made our way to one of the drinking establishments at The Forks. From there the night spiralled out of control with enough alcohol consumption that left me regretting my decision the next morning. But the realization that this was just the first of many future parties was a cool concept to wake up to.
A few days later, I received an email from my dad in Europe. He was keeping up with the news out there and wanted to know how the past few days had felt from someone who was seeing it unfold across the city. I thought about how I would respond for a few minutes before finally deciding on the best way to describe the emotions to him:
He didn't get the joke.
Where you were a year ago today when the announcement was made. Furthermore, what you have planned for Jets Day this year? Hit us up the comments section below!