WINNIPEG – There were tears at Jobing.com Arena in Arizona on Wednesday night as the Phoenix Coyotes bowed out of the NHL playoffs.
But more than 2,000 kilometres away in Winnipeg, the mood remains a bit more upbeat as hockey fans in the Manitoba capital patiently await the return of their NHL team.
“A lot of them were crying,” web designer Lauren Robb said of the crowd shots in Phoenix after the Detroit Red Wings swept the Coyotes in the best-of-seven series with a 6-3 victory.
Robb is part of the dedicated group of Jets fans who have been hoping for years for the NHL to return and now see those odds tilting in their favour with the Coyotes’ uncertain future. But the reaction of Phoenix hockey fans struck a familiar chord with those in Winnipeg when in ’96 the Jets left after losing to Detroit in the playoffs.
“I feel for them because I know how that was,” Robb said. “But I’m also excited.
“We’ve had this carrot dangling in front of us for so long.”
But it’s a cautious optimism say those like Robb who have campaigned long and hard for the NHL to return after the Jets left town. And they know firsthand that in this situation, there’s no shortage of hurdles to be cleared.
“It always has to be cautious enthusiasm . . . but we’re more than prepared at our end,” said Darren Ford, a 33-year-old wine and spirits dealer and de-facto leader of the Bring Back the Jets campaign. “Everyone is really optimistic that if one team isn’t coming, Phoenix, then Atlanta is.
“There are still the naysayers that are out there . . . but it’s tough not to get excited about it.”
Ford runs the website www.jetsowner.com (designed by Robb, who runs his own website, www.winnipegjetsonline.com).
The City of Glendale, where the arena the Coyotes play in is located, was meeting with the Goldwater Institute on Thursday afternoon. The institute has threatened legal action over the city’s deal with Matthew Hulsizer, which it says violates Arizona law by using public money to subsidize a private business.
“They’re going to have one more kick at the can down there but it does look dismal,” said Ford.
Goldwater’s objections have thrown cold water on Glendale’s US$100-million bond issue, needed to finance the deal but neither Glendale nor Hulsizer appear to be throwing in the towel.
If the Coyotes are bound for Winnipeg, then True North Sports and Entertainment, which owns the MTS Centre, isn’t saying. Then again, chances are the company that houses the venue currently vacated by the AHL’s Manitoba Moose simply doesn’t know.
“The story and the outcome still lie in Phoenix . . . not in Winnipeg,” said Scott Brown, True North’s director of corporate communications and hockey operations.
True North is owned by Winnipeg’s Chipman family and Toronto’s David Thomson, of Thomson Reuters fame and the world’s 17th richest man.
With deep pockets like that involved, there’s good reason for Ford to be optimistic even though Winnipeg would be subjected to a market test before the NHL would agree to return there.
“These guys are pretty business savvy and they wouldn’t be moving forward with this mission if they didn’t think this community was (ready),” he said.
Ford also believes there will be little warning when it does happen.
“This is going to happen very quickly,” he said. “It’s going to turn from rabid speculation into rabid wallet opening . . . People better be prepared.”