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Friday Wakeup Call: How Winnipeg changed my life

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media columnist

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Brief and to the Point …

>> The Friday column weighs Canada’s love for Sidney Crosby on the day he makes his NHL debut here.

>> Also, our weekly chat will be today at 2 p.m.

>> For all the glowing I do about this special place, I’ve told very, very few outside the family why.

Let me start here: It’s not about the team. Never has been. It’s about the city and its people and their one-of-a-kind bond with the Jets in having lost them and then, against all imaginable odds, gotten them back.

It’s about the day they left, way back in 1996.

I was with another newspaper then, and in a very different role. I designed pages and oversaw our night editing desk. I’d been hired as a reporter right out of college (freshman year, actually), but a need arose at this position, I was asked to fill it, and I played good soldier. But, as much as I respected that role and its importance (still do), it wasn’t me.

I followed the Jets’ saga from afar, merely as an interested hockey fan. It was fascinating then, and it became that much more once fully laid out in the investigative book “Thin Ice.” It was so striking to see a city that wanted a team that badly, only to have a few people foul it up and, in turn, crush the spirits of nearly everyone living there.

So I went. No paper anywhere would send a page designer on an excursion to Manitoba, so I just bought a ticket, booked a cheap motel and took off. Told everyone I’d be back in a week.

Upon getting there … it’s hard to describe what happened next. I was alone. I pretty much just bounced from place to place, coffee to coffee, deep into the night. Don’t remember as much about specifics now, but people there were genuinely so taken that I’d come there that we actually formed this little group that was making this impromptu tour.

I heard stories about their hockey team. Young people. They thought their city was dying. They cried.

As we walked, one of my new friends pointed to spray painting on the side of the Winnipeg Art Museum.


Save our Jets.

No way I wasn’t going to write about this.

It had been close to three years since I’d written anything, but I started to get the blood flowing again. This was so easy, this subject matter, and yet it felt so important that the pressure — that healthy pressure all of us feel in this business under the weight of a bigger topic — that came rushing back, too.

I went to the game the next night at rickety old Winnipeg Arena. The cry — and that’s what it was — over the final five minutes of regulation of what all knew would be the last game ever, nothing’s ever moved me like that. It was like a collective last gasp, painfully uncomfortable to the core.

I did write about it. Front page of the Sunday paper, too.

I’ve never stopped writing, and I’ll be writing again tonight from the same place.

>> And on that serious-sounding note, here’s something completely ridiculous: I wanted to illustrate for you something that looked like minus-27 degree wind chill, so my idea was to go outside the hotel and watch how quickly water freezed.

That’s when Hotel Lobby Guy showed up to show me up …

>> I’ll have full Penguins-Jets coverage, beginning with morning skates, right here on this blog.

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Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and, recently, his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the country's top four columnists by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the country's top three columnists by the National Headliners. For 2013, he was named the state's top columnist by the Keystone Press Awards and top columnist in Western Pennsylvania by the Golden Quills.

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