Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Winnipeg Jets: A Time Capsule of my Youth.

It was almost two months shy of my 10th birthday when the Winnipeg Jets skated off the ice at the Winnipeg Arena for the last time.

The Jets had just lost a best of seven series 4 games to 2 against the vaunted Detroit Red Wings a team on the up rise and loaded with NHL stars.

I remember the empty feeling of dispair, which was magnified due to my age. This was the end of the NHL for me.

Since then I have been able to move on and am fortunate that I stuck it out with a league that turned its back on me. I can honestly say that I don't know where I would be without hockey in my life.

While watching tonight's game between the Washington Capitals and Phoenix Coyotes, I can't help but look back to my youth and the role that this team - 13 years removed from my hometown - had on me.

I came from a typical middle class family, living with both my parents and two younger sisters. Being the only male child gave me many perks, one of which was attending sporting events with my dad. We didn't get to see them often, but just enough to fuel my obsession with the NHL, and more importantly with Teemu Selanne; my idol growing up.

Most opposing players that have come through Winnipeg are lost on me, as are many of the teams. I know that I have seen the Red Wings, Flyers, Islanders, Stars and Whalers for certain, but after that it's hazy.

What I do remember was the atmosphere. The roar of a Winnipeg crowd is a distinct one, a cheer that I could differentiate from any other. The fans were passionate for their team, and the players enjoyed our raucous nature.

The Winnipeg Arena, built in the 1950's was usually full, which is an impressive feat considering some of the pitiful rosters this team assembled. Year after year, Winnipeg made sure to go off the board with their first round selections, drafting the likes of Jimmy Mann and Sergei Bautin, while passing up the Martin Brodeur's and Jaromir Jagr's of the league. In the pre-salary cap era, the Jets didn't have much money to spend, and proved this by rarely making a splash on upcoming unrestricted free agents.

Alas, the NHL finally reached their breaking point, and the team was forced to relocate in the spring of 1996. I dabbled in the teams fortunes in the early years after the teams move, but after much of the 95-96 Jets roster moved on with their careers, so did I. My last surviving tie to the Jets lies with 32 year old Shane Doan, drafted 4th overall in the 1995 entry draft out of Kamloops of the WHL.

Winnipeg will most probably never have the luxury of an NHL franchise returning to our turf, to try rebuilding the shattered dreams of a city that never really recovered from their loss.

But while watching tonights game at Arena, the Coyotes in their brick coloured jerseys, this hockey fan can't help but relive some of his most cherrished childhood memories.

Watching a hockey game with my father.

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