It’s been a decade since Manitoba’s capital could proudly claim NHL status. After almost 25 years in the World Hockey Association and the NHL, the Jets ran out of financial fuel in 1996 and the Jets flew south.
Stars such as Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg, Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne brought status and glamour to this often ridiculed prairie city.
Everyone here remembers the team’s farewell game as more than 15,000 fans wore white in the creaky Winnipeg Arena. The players sentimentally skated around the ice at the end, many waving, some weeping as the team prepared to move to Phoenix, Arizona.
Since the departure of the Jets, one Winnipegger has clung to his dream that NHL hockey might return. Darren Ford is a sales representative and in his spare time, he manages a web site called www.jetsowner.com. The site aims to build community interest in bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg. Visitors to the site are welcomed with a simple but powerful message: „VACANCY: NHL Franchise in Winnipeg. Owner Wanted!“
„We have the fans, that’s clear. It’s the interest of Winnipeg investors that we need.“ said Ford. The city of Winnipeg has a new, modern downtown arena which is home to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League. The MTS Centre arena was built with a clear purpose: to revitalize the heart of the city.
The crowds who pack the place to watch the Moose stoke Darren Ford’s imagination. „The arena is tremendous,“ Ford says, „People are enthusiastic. I don’t see why we couldn’t attract an NHL team.“
Ford believes that several teams in the southern United States, especially in markets where hockey is not a passion, could one day move to a market like Winnipeg.
„I am certain that Winnipeg will be soon meet the requirements to qualify for expansion or perhaps the transfer of a franchise,“ he said.
With a top-notch arena and a new collective agreement that is expected to make clubs in smaller markets more competitive, Ford is convinced everything is in place for a Winnipeg hockey renaissance. But for now, he says, the return of the NHL is still just a fan’s dream since the business community is making little noise about the idea.
„I believe that one day we will have an owner ready to invest“, Mr. Ford asserts, „The season has just begun again and the time will come for Winnipeg, I am certain.“