Winnipeg Odyssey: Part Two (of Six)

Part Two: The Magic Blue Box

The lucky ones in Winnipeg got the box—blue, shiny, in the team colors of the new Jets—about a foot long.  Inside?  Their season’s ticket booklet, and some holders so that each time they tear out a pair and take them to the game, they can protect the precious tickets.  Later, they can keep the box as a souvenir, a symbol that they were one of the lucky ones.

That box was opened in earnest for the first time, Sunday, and in advance of that, everyone had a story, as I learned hanging out in town Saturday night.  You hear it standing in grocery store lines.  You hear it on the radio.  And if you run into anyone and say you’re headed to the game, they’ll tell you their version.

“I had four computers going,” one local resident told me Saturday.  “I thought if I didn’t hit with one, I’d hit with another.”

Another fellow, a doctor well known about town, recited his tale of near disaster:

I had two internet browsers open, and I got all the preliminary steps done.  I had timed the moment when I would click “send’ to correspond with the official “tone” that the CBC puts on the radio (“after ten seconds of silence, the long tone indicates exactly twelve noon,” they say), so that my computer would register the exact right moment.

Then, you know that funny word they make you write to authenticate the purchase?  Well, I couldn’t tell if it was an “i” or a small “l” in there.

I thought about it for a moment, and decided it was an “i.”  I was right, and I got a pair of tickets for half the season.

He’s looking forward especially to one game, which is when the Ducks and Teemu Selanne are in town, in December.  His wife is OK with the fact that it’s on the same night as their anniversary.  She’s going to that game, too.

Actually, Doc is a family member of mine, related by marriage through my sister, so I’m having fun hanging out with him over the weekend, because everywhere we go, we run into people he knows, and they’ve all got stories too.

One guy told me that he wasn’t going to this game, despite having gone in with a couple of people for a pair of tickets in the lower bowl.  But he’d already gotten dibs on some other games that he wanted.

That was my first Winnipeg surprise.  Nobody seemed too upset about going to one game or the other, or missing certain ones.  It was enough that they could be a part of things, and the general opinion is that just living here, now, is enough.  The community is the Jets is the community, type of thing.

Cruising around seeing the sights Saturday in the late afternoon, I swear that the town looked like it’s been spit-shined for the event of the first game.  Downtown, there was no mess anywhere.  The old buildings have a coat of clean on them, and the new ones, are, well, new, including a couple of impressive towers and a really snazzy new science building.  The latter is in what was once a blighted neighborhood, but under the direction of the new University of Manitoba president, it’s being rebuilt to serve students and faculty.

There’s also a new museum being constructed, kind of Disney Concert Hall style, with special Manitoba stone on part of the facing.  It’s to honor Human Rights.  The project has been somewhat politicized over the years, with issues of funding (namely, whether the Federal Government would kick in a share) predominating.  But that’s neither here nor there now.  What matters to anyone looking in from the outside is that Winnipeg is a place where investment is being done.

In fact, this growth has nothing to do with the team coming.  Rather, I believe, it’s the opposite: not that the town got ready because of the team, but the town was ready, and now it has a team.  In other words, despite being somewhat forgotten amongst Canadian cities, let alone NHL-prospect cities, Winnipeg has been growing, cleaning up, and revitalizing over the years since the old Jets left.  And now, it’s taking its rightful place amongst North America’s top burgs.  The team is less a cause of that than an effect.

What’s it like weather-wise?  The leaves have turned color, and most have fallen.  The evening before the big game was cool enough to require a jacket outside.  The daytime temp on gameday was about 62 degrees F.  Not bad, but nippy enough to remind you that this is hockey country.

As if to give further evidence that hockey is Manitoba, walking around the doctor’s suburban neighborhood Saturday night with his family’s dog in tow, I saw the glow of TV screens through living room windows.  On them?  Hockey Night in Canada.  Nets for street hockey also stood in most yards or driveways.  This is hockey country.  It’s too bad it took the NHL so long to remember that fact.

Even saying that, though, ignores the fact that hockey country is a lot of things.  It’s the NHL, but it’s also the joy in the faces of a couple we ran into walking the dog.  They had their pooch with them too, and they said their sixteen year-old son has just played the first few games of his hockey season.  Saturday, the arena where his game took place was full of scouts.  They were introducing themselves to the parents.  This couple got a few business cards, including one from a prospective agent.  Their boy has been drafted into the WHL already, but he’s a little skinny to make that jump.  They hope he’ll be in the under-17 World Championship tournament this year.  Maybe later, American college.

Hockey is everywhere here, and because the city now has the big leagues again, it’s more alive than ever, (or moreso than for a decade and a half).  Looking around and hearing what people here have to say, I can say with no hesitation that I’m really glad for them.  This is a great city.  They deserve the credit that comes with having an NHL franchise.

Brian Kennedy’s book “Living the Hockey Dream” has inside information straight from the mouths of Bobby Hull and Bobby Jr. about what life was like in Winnipeg back in the WHA days. A big thank you to the Jets for making this happen for me, and to the Goossens of Winnipeg, who showed me every corner of the town and introduced me to the vibe that all residents share in these exciting days.


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