Since ganking the Atlanta Thrashers, renaming them the Jets and releasing a spiffy new logo, Winnipeg is squarely on the National stage as they get ready to bring NHL hockey to Manitoba for the first time in 15 years. The City is hotter than the Keegan Bradley fan club and they are getting ready for one hell of a party.
With that in mind we fired up the imaginary WanyeJet and visited friendly Manitoba for the past several days. What we found was pretty bloody awesome.
THE MTS CENTRE
The home of the Winnipeg Jets can be described in a single word. Sweet. Contrary to what Edmonton Downtown Arena haters would have you believe, the convenience of a central arena is fantastic. Right on Portage in the epicenter of town, the 15,015 seat facility is getting ready for the return of NHL hockey at light speed.
Half the arena is currently under construction. They are doubling the size of the press box to make room for all the media types that will be descending on the City with regularity. The luxury boxes are getting a facelift too, as companies paying NHL prices will sit in brand new unobstructed luxury. And the dressing rooms are getting the old once over, preparing to house the team that will own the hearts and minds of Winnipegers long before they kick off the season.
Concerns about the relatively small size of the arena – long referred to as too small for NHL hockey – have since been squashed. With the American economy headed towards the toilet at dizzying speed, the capacity of your arena has taken a back seat to how many people are actually willing to show up and pay to watch the ice hockeys.
Though on the building may be on the smaller side, the Jets have been able to command top dollar for their tickets and look to be on rock solid financial footing with the ownership duo of Mark Chipman and David Thomson at the helm.
The idea that naming the Winnipeg team the Jets would result in less apparel sales can be punched squarely in the face and kicked out of the room. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a new Jets t-shirt or hat squarely in the face here on the streets of Winnipeg.
Drunkenly talking to Winnipegers of all shapes and sizes has been a treat. People here are unbelievably pumped to see the team return and are already ripping apart the Thrashers roster with an expert eye that only hockey starved Canadians can provide.
When the team was formally announced as returning to Winnipeg, the City had to shut down Portage Avenue to facilitate the impromptu parade. We were assured by several folks that ‘opening night of the season will shut the City down and it will be like a Stanley Cup parade right out of the gate.’
When season tickets were made available to the general public, the Ticketmaster website reported 248,000 hits for Jets tickets in the first 17 seconds. You read that correctly, it took all of 17 seconds to sell out the season tickets and despite the fact that ticket holders were forced into a multi-year contract just to get season seats, there is now an 8,000 person waiting list for tickets.
What a difference 15 years makes.
The state of the arena may be important, but the night time fun is even more crucial. In the name of research we went out on the town four nights in a row demanding entry to the finest clubs in Winnipeg. Once inside, we laid our A game down on Winnipeg’s finest women, with varying degrees of success.
Without a doubt, the party scene in Winnipeg is awesome. There are a plethora of clubs within walking distance in the downtown core, the best of which is the hilariously named Whisky Dix. Located in a mega old bank building the two level club also has one of the sickest patios we had ever seen until we visited the Tavern just down the street from the MTS Centre. Sporting a rooftop patio that must seat at least 150 people, these two clubs dispensed various libations until their 3 AM closing time.
Everyone that we met was beside themselves with excitement for the start of the NHL season. Some claimed that ‘all the love will die off when the Jets fail to score on their first power play’ but we have a hard time believing that is the case.
Watching the tortured courtship of the Phoenix Coyotes from afar was heart wrenching for any red blooded Canadian hockey fan. When the Jets left town in 1996, we were convinced our beloved Edmonton Oilers were only minutes away from following suit and heading South of the border. Fortunately that was not the case and the Oil stayed put.
15 years later Winnipeg has an NHL hockey team again. It was a million-to-one shot that had more to do with the economic turmoil in the US thank anything else but this City knows what it has on it’s hands and is ready to rock.
Go Jets. Good on you Winnipeg.