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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.

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.


  1. JAL says:

    Ok, a Friday wake up call, so what is different about the blog? Guess I will post this and see if anything is different.

  2. JAL says:

    Looks same to me

  3. JAL says:

    Except there are no threads between January 12 and this January 25 thread

  4. Pittsburgher in winnipeg says:

    Love the post. They definitely love their Jets here. I’ve met a bunch of people who were Penguins or leafs fans but they could care less about them now they just want the jets.

    The bottom youtube link isn’t working for me…

  5. Reading says:

    Great story, DK! While rifling through a box in my attic a while back, a sixth grade report on Manitoba was uncovered. It’s possible that there was a section discussing how water turns to ice when thrown out of a cup. Sounds interesting. Maybe you could verify if that is really true, given that it is something like -32 there.

  6. Joe says:

    And this blog isn’t listed under blogs tab.

  7. Matt in Ann Arbor says:

    Link is wrong — httpv://
    Should be

    but cool video

  8. Matt in Ann Arbor says:

    nevermind :)

    DK: There will be kinks, guys. Right now, I can’t embed videos because there’s apparently a new way to do that, and I don’t have the instructions yet.

    We’ll work on it.

  9. UnclScrewtape says:

    Dude. That was cool.

  10. Justin in Ellwood city says:

    Thanks for sharing DK, someday you will have to tell us the ins and outs of what makes Winnipeg such an attractive city to visit.

  11. Ace McTasty says:

    I’m sure it’s taboo to link to a competing paper, but is this 1996 article to be found online anywhere?

    DK: There are a couple readers doing microfilm searches through Google right now. One emailed to say he’s close. If they find it, I will link it.

  12. @suckmeter says:

    Very nice. I get it now.

  13. Dan1283 says:

    Fabulous story. Thanks to the people of Winnipeg for getting DK writing again, and thanks to DK for not stopping.

    For those of you that have never visited our neighbors to the north, I highly recommend going. It’s bizarre how….familiar everything feels up there. Pittsburgh is special for many reasons, but mainly because of its people. Canada feels just like that. Like a much colder version of Pittsburgh filled with warm people that, well, do weird stuff to french fries. Cheese curds? I’ll pass without a breath of hesitation. But I can forgive them that one misguided step.

    Need to get back to Toronto again someday to visit the Hall again. It’s one of the coolest buildings I have ever been to. Sounds like I should do my best to catch a Jets game someday, too.

    Hope we all get to see Sid do something very Sid-like tomorrow night!

  14. steelercrazy says:

    Wow Dejan. Thank you so very much for sharing this story. Whenever I see that Jets countdown video from now on, knowing that it also signifies your journalistic rebirth will make it that much more special. Just wow.

  15. Milo Hamilton says:

    Looks like we’re on London time. Speaking of that, do they have a portrait of the Queen at the new arena ?

  16. Dan1283 says:

    My my, look at the time! Here I am watching Scuds and the Kings take on the Oilers and before I know it, it’s apparently nearly 4 AM!

  17. DK: I see the titles of two of the articles, but can’t see the text without buying it. Here is the URL:



    DK: I don’t have an online or text copy of the story. I have the front page of the original newspaper at home, but not the runover, which took up a full page.

    We might get lucky. Was told late last night the editors of the Winnipeg Sun are looking for it, too. They have way more resources than I do, obviously.

  18. Thundercrack says:

    Nice story.

    1) What time of year was that in 1996? Was it the spring —since it was the last game of the year.

    2) Getting a ticket to that last game – did you scalp one, buy one at the window, or use your press pass?

    DK: Rich Nairn, longtime Jets/Coyotes PR man, issued me a credential.

  19. Karen22 says:

    Goosepimply story…Thank you for sharing!

  20. Christopher Walton says:

    Thanks for sharing the story, Dejan. And as always, in your honest and earnest voice.

  21. AugustWest says:

    DK: Great post, and way to make your own break in a tough business. You deserve all the “luck” you’ve had since writing that story. I know it’s probably frowned upon to send a link to a competing paper (I assume it was the P-G), but I would love to see what you produced.

  22. Jay says:

    Milo – The Queen portrait is too big for the MTS Centre, but we now have something even better. Check out @returnourqueen on Twitter.

    DK: Where would you put her?

    Every seat so precious in that place.

  23. bpn8pitt says:

    Crazy, with the water.

  24. Ghost says:

    Enthusiastically agree with everyone above. Today’s entry is a perfect example of what sets your empathetic, heartfelt writing apart from pretty much everyone else’s. You’ve made us feel like we’re right there in the Pirate clubhouse sitting next to a player spilling his guts, and now we feel like we journeyed there with you to Winnepeg to feel those people’s heartbreak, those many years ago.
    And that little video about the cold tucked in at the end? Instant classic! Pawing at your poured water, practically coaxing it to hurry up and freeze as you had the impossible task of following the bell hop’s vapor act…
    Equally funny was your commentary: “(His) was SO much better than what I wanted to do. Here’s mine, which is kinda lame.”

  25. Dom says:

    Great read.

    I never understood why they would move NHL teams from cities like Winnipeg in the first place.

  26. Reading says:;_ylt=AqggrN_MilXBbcJhgEEcP8dShgM6?urn=nhl-wp6017

    This link had a DK excerpt from around that time about Winnipeg and the Jets, but it doesn’t specify the date of the article.

  27. Reading says:

    Looking through the google news archives for the PG, they have the April 27, 1996 and April 29, 1996 editions, but don’t have the Sunday April 28, 1996 edition.

  28. PgherinLev says:

    If #27 doesn’t get a good conspiracy theory cooking, nothing will!

  29. JW says:


    Sadly, gaps in the Google archive aren’t uncommon, and Google has abandoned the project.

  30. radio wave says:

    Will any other city have the same luck, get a second franchise?

  31. JoeyBats says:

    Hoka Hey everyone,

    The new blog looks GREAT.

    By the way …..”S.O.P.”

    (…do ya think we can break the streak in honor of the Great One ?) :-(

  32. Jandy says:

    Dejan, thanks for sharing that with us. You can tell it comes from the soul. No wonder those Winnipeggers love you.

    This blog is a mess. lol

  33. Drew71 says:

    Enjoyed your post up there, Dejan. Thoroughly.

    It brought back memories of a different sort. I once had a role helping a company evaluate and expand into small, Mid Atlantic and Midwest cities. Seen-better-days-but-on-the-road-to-recovery cities, with older, closed down industrial cores but ringed by growth.

    What I remember about all these cities (except one) was how nice, inviting, civicly minded and open these people were. When they learned my role, it was like I had 100s of market research assistants. From guys on the street, waitresses, Chamber types and local business people, even CEOs.

    Everyone wanted to help, everyone wanted to tell me how wonderful it was there. We’re-all-in-this-together. No spin on their parts. Wherever it was, it was wonderful. Because they MADE it that way.

    Doesn’t quite have the storyline of a major sport leaving and returning. I didn’t have an arena full of people to see. But the “warmth” was the same, if i can use that term for minus-frikking-27.

  34. Jandy says:

    Link to Diane….errrr..Dejan’s article on Sid and Canada. A good read. Since JAL is traveling, I thought some of you guys might like this:

  35. Eric Bowser says:

    Good morning. Thank you to everyone for all the thoughts and prayers. After going through that, why in the world do people put themselves through cosmetic surgery.

    Going to rest up and hopefully be ready for a little hockey in Winnipeg tonight.

    Pens back on the road and hopefully play their game.

  36. Drew71 says:

    Too late now, but you should have canned the surgery and simply traveled to Winnipeg. Minus-frikking-27 has a way of cleaning out the sinuses.

    Rob Ryan has a job again. All Is Right With The World.

    I can’t wait to see the camera focus on his Silver Locks, even when the play is running.

    Hey. It’s St Louis. It HAS to be more entertaining than the game.

  37. Jandy says:

    Eric, welcome back! Hope you’re not too miserable. Take pain meds…don’t be a martyr!

  38. JAL says:

    JAL’s Astronomy Domine Morning Links


    1- MLB Transactions

    2-MLB Trade Rumors-Pirates

    3 Go Buccos- Pirate News (from external sources)

    4 Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Spring Training Tracker

    BLOGS and such

    5—Pirates Prospects

    First Pitch: Some Poor Roster Management by the Pirates

    Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Top Prospects: #7 – Barrett Barnes

    6 This Is Getting Old

    Roster Watch: A Litany Of Relievers

    7 The Green Weenie

    Things We Wonder…

    8 Bucs Dugout

    Justin Upton trade: Upton (finally) headed to Braves

    9 Rumbunter

    Pittsburgh Pirates Starling Marte: Reason to Believe in 2013

    The Pittsburgh Pirates Shortstop of the Future Or Just Another Premium Prospect Heartbreaker?

    10 MLB

    Prospect Watch: Top 10 shortstops

  39. JAL says:

    NEWSPAPERS and MAGAZINES and Other Media

    11 Rant Sports

    Wandy Rodrgiuez Must Adjust in First Full Season With Pittsburgh Pirates

    12 City of Champions

    Pittsburgh Pirates: Suddenly the Bucs have pitching depth

    13 Chicago Tribune

    Pittsburgh Pirates – PlayerWatch,0,3146812.story

    14 Sports Illustrated

    Winter report card: Pittsburgh Pirates

    15 WTMJ

    Tony Plush takes his act to Japan

    16 USA Today

    Will Mets provide a soft landing for Michael Bourn?

    17 Baseball News Source

    5 Minor League Deals With Potential Major League Impact

    18 Sweetspot

    Stan Musial and not striking out


    19 Baseball Prospectus

    Justin Upton Trade-Rumor Era Ends With Justin Upton Trade

    20 Fangraphs

    Justin Upton, the Braves, and their Strikeouts

  40. JAL says:

    Steelers Blogs

    21 Behind the Steel Curtain

    Darrelle Revis Trade: Unlikely to mesh with Pittsburgh, but it isn’t impossible

    22 Steelers Depot

    - The Terrible Podcast – Talking Possible Coaching Staff Moves, Darrelle Revis, Manti Te’o, Senior Bowl & More Episode


    23 Daily Telegraph

    Police launch fresh inquiry into incident involving Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Swansea ballboy

    24 World Soccer Daily

    World Soccer Daily: 10 stories you need to read, 24th January, 2013

    World Soccer Daily: 10 stories you need to read, 24th January, 2013


    25 Pensburgh

    How Tomas Vokoun Makes this a Critical Season for Marc-Andre Fleury

  41. JAL says:

    Tried to post morning links but not showing up. Am i missing something, blog doesn’t look any different to me except has gone backwards in posting links. 2 parts of the links are nowhere and part 3 is “awaiting moderation”

    At least should takes today’s song

    JAL’s Astronomy Domine Morning Links

    Astronomy Domine Pink Floyd 1967 Syd Barrett wrote the song and sings lead. This is Pink Floyd before David Gilmour joined.

  42. Drew71 says:

    Wonderful music.

  43. JAL says:

    looking at the time of the posts the song that comes to mind is Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?

  44. Drew71 says:

    I was thinking the new blog evokes Careful With That Ax, Eugene.

  45. JAL says:


    What is new about it? i do not see a difference

  46. JAL says:

    Looks like part 3 of the links finally appeared

  47. Jandy says:

    JAL, nothing is new just yet…I imagine they are working out kinks.

  48. Patrick says:

    wow. even a visit from the honorable @suckmeter. The Batman to to DK’s Bruce Wayne as it were lol

    Didn’t realize the trip to Manitoba warranted such attention. If I had known it was going to be that kind of post I would have worn a tux. Its attracting the finest people.

  49. Jandy says:

    Patrick, maybe some champagne as well? ;)

  50. JAL says:


    Thanks, above someone posted “new blog looks great’ and i wondered what i was missing.

    other parts of links now awaiting moderation so may show up later

  51. LuckyNKentucky says:

    How did everyone get on here? I had to link on from Twitter of all places, from DK’s tweet about his Winnepeg born again experience. The “Blogger” link on the the site is going to an old list.

    Ice storm here. Should be a slow day. Good day to harass Drew.

  52. Nancy52 says:

    Thanks for sharing. No wonder Winnipeg is a favorite place for

  53. JAL says:


    If you click on Kovacevic at the top it takes to his page and the blog is on the right side of that page

  54. LuckyNKentucky says:

    Thanks, JAL.

  55. Drew71 says:

    So YOU’RE having an ice storm and you’re gonna harass ME?

  56. JAL says:


    Glad you liked the song. Most people are aware of Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall but Piper at the Gates of Dawn, their 1st album, is very good. The album title is taken from chapter 7 of The Wind in the Willows

  57. Patrick(RI) says:

    What a hoot, this a.m., to wake up to this particular blog. DK is not only a wonderful writer, he is also still a kid — I wonder which is cause and which is effect?

  58. Drew71 says:

    Danica Patrick has a boyfriend.

    There. There’s your sports news, according to espn.

    That and Wall To Wall coverage of an under .500 NBA eam in Los Angeles.

  59. Drew71 says:

    Loved Ummagumma. And liked some of Syd Barrett’s independent stuff, even if horribly produced.

  60. Thundercrack says:

    I think we are supposed to buy special double-secret x-ray 3D glasses. With those on the blog looks A LOT different. And you should see what it will do to the time stamp.

  61. Bizrow says:

    I’m just glad the blog is back up, I actually had to kill time working yesterday afternoon.

    That was tough…..

  62. Steve says:

    Send it in Jerome!!!!!!!!!

  63. DanW says:

    Based on the video, I have to say I’m glad your previous trip to Winnipeg didn’t somehow inspire you to move to the science desk :). On a related note, here’s a similar video at -50 Celsius…

  64. radio wave says:

    Lucky I got to the blog going through the trip radio app on my smart phone I recommend that to everyone

  65. TJ says:

    Was it me or did anyone else have a hard time finding DK’s blog? I ususually go to the sports page then on to blogs but I didn’t see it listed under the blog portion. I hate when things are made better!!!!

  66. Jandy says:

    I have this site in my favorites, and it took me right in. But like I said, no changes.

  67. Bizrow says:

    I had to go to Dejan’s page on the trib to find the blog

  68. LuckyNKentucky says:


    I still have a dumb phone. I need to keep it fairly simple at my age. I don’t even like to text if I can avoid it. I prefer the old-fashioned things like talking on phones if possible and, as little of that as possible.

    My fingers are too big for texting, anyway. I hit about 7 keys at once. How did we come this far without stuff like that and smart phones?

  69. tmp444 says:

    I’ve always had this in my bookmarks:

    That takes me right to the main blog page with the links for each day’s thread. Worked perfectly this morning, albeit as someone above said, there are some threads missing. And DK said yesterday that the only update happening yesterday was the server — functionality updates are forthcoming.

    Great post, today, DK. I hope one of our Lunatic webmasters can find the old article.




  71. Arriba Wilver says:

    I hope all the people who can’t get here are taking notes here about how to get here.

  72. Arriba Wilver says:

    And I don’t know how I got here.

  73. Patrick says:


    I have the same problem. My texts and tweets look like they were entered by a stuttering German with a lisp. “Grthurtheichban throt Mcddaachlnalds”

    I would need an Ipad as a phone to be able to text.


    You know why they moved Winnipeg. Same reason they do anything. More money.

  74. RobertoForever says:


    Thanks for trying with the links. Don’t get discouraged by the blog change. Those IT guys will work out the new server kinks eventually.

    Really appreciate the conglomeration of all the important news of the day.

  75. Looks like my prediction that the Fountain at the Point would be working again before the long and frequently promised improvements at this site still has a chance.
    The tunnels opening under the river has already come true.

    Come on, Mayor Lukey Baby from W & J——let’s get that 14 ° water pumping in the air!!

  76. IT Guys——conspiring minds want to know:

    Is the Chat at 2:00 Blog Time or 2:00 Earth Time in Pittsburgh?

  77. LuckyNKentucky says:


    Great analogy. Very funny. I hate to mispell anything and mine look like I went to school here in KY or took typing lessons from Jandy.


    Good to see you. How do you like the way the rotation is shaking out?

  78. 21sthebest says:

    Groat, I predict the Fountain will start working again on June 7.

  79. Wouldn’t you know it:

    The only part of JAL’s links, the JAL Chronicles, that shows up is the part that contains Soccer.

    “Curses!! Foiled again!!”

  80. Bizrow says:

    @AW – but if you can’t get here, you won’t know how to get here by reading the posts ;-)

    NH would understand that logic

  81. Clemente’s the BEST,

    Let’s hope the clock here is corrected by June 7!!!!

  82. NMR says:

    “And I don’t know how I got here”

    ^Story of my life, brother.

  83. Dom says:

    Here is a good article in reference to JAL’s number 21.

    Even though it is very unlikely to happen regardless, the reason the Jets are apparently willing to deal Revis is probably due to the fact he might never be the CB he was before. I would rather have us resign Lewis than take a chance on Revis.

  84. Dom says:


    That’s right. 25 years ago today Jerome Lane shattered the basketball hoop. It wasn’t such a good day for the janitors.

  85. Jandy says:

    Hey now Spunky, I resemble that remark in #75!!!!

    Roberto, sure is nice to “see” you here :)

  86. Thundercrack says:

    I have this blog’s address bookmarked in a folder called “Pirate Blogs”

    I do that so it is easy to find every morning…and I know it would probably annoy the author if he know that. :-)

  87. Thundercrack says:

    Thanks to this morning’s blog headline I have this song stuck in my head:
    “Someone Saved My Life Tonight —Winnipeg”. Sing along with me.

  88. chuck Snow says:

    Great story Dejan..I put you right up there with Bill Bryson….Always a good read.

  89. LuckyNKentucky says:

    Just wanted to see if you were awake, J-girl. After all, it’s a hockey night in Winnepeg.

  90. Drew71 says:

    “I hope all the people who can’t get here are taking notes here about how to get here.”

    Evil and wonderful.

    (I guess that was repetitive. At least for me.)

  91. Dom says:

    The Buccos lost Zach Stewart via waivers today. We got Stewart in exchange for Kyle Kaminska, whom we obtained for Gorkeys Hernandez and our compensation pick. We did also obtain Gabby Sanchez in the deal though.

  92. Drew71 says:


    We need a column in which the rickety old Winnipeg Arena talks to you.

  93. Milo Hamilton says:

    Well, there goes the pennant.

  94. 21sthebest says:

    Thanks TC. Maybe now I’ll finally be able to get Half Breed out of my head.

  95. LuckyNKentucky says:

    Kaminska pitched well in the AFL. Guess they didn’t see a need for him with all this new-found “pitching depth”.

  96. Milo Hamilton says:

    It may have taken forever to get here but at least the time’s right.

  97. DK, That was a great video. Hope you didn’t get frostbite. I tried the hot water vaporization to gas when I Winter-Over in Antarctica in the early 90s. Did the same thing. Always a neat thing to do. I also showed the trick to my wife when I was in grad school in Fairbanks, Alaska in the early 2000s. Keep up the good scientific displays and reporting! Stay warm, too!

  98. Jandy says:

    TC, I’ve had “Someone Saved My LIfe Tonight” in my head for a week know, as hubby had some old concert on tv and there was EJ singin it. Sheesh, it won’t go away!!!!

  99. Drew71 says:

    I wonder if the voice of the fake, rickety old Winnipeg Arena is a man or woman.

  100. LuckyNKentucky says:

    Has to be a woman, Drew. Wasn’t the Civic Arena a man? Equal time is a must.

    From DK’s picture yesterday out his Motel 6 window, it looks like their football stadium should be condemned. It looks like a Nascar track in the Arctic.

  101. Drew,

    It’s the voice of Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend.

  102. Drew71 says:

    Yes. I agree.

    Drew has to be a woman.


  103. Dave G says:

    Nice to see we are on Greenwich time now.

    It’s a great day for hockey!


  104. Bizrow says:

    Its 4 pm? Heck, I gotta go home now

  105. Drew71 says:

    Things will work out perfectly for Nyjmo in that regimented and disciplined environment.

  106. Pitt DE Michael says:

    April 28, 1996


    Article Text:

    WINNIPEG, Manitoba — A crude watercolor stands out among the crowded display window at the Winnipeg Art Museum. It is bold. It is bright. It is also bleak.

    It shows the Jets’ Nikolai Khabibulin making a save on Chicago’s Jeremy Roenick, and contains the kind of meticulous attention to detail only an enthusiastic child could muster, right down to the tiny inscriptions on the home team goaltender’s shoulder patch.

    The painting is, in fact, done by a child, signed by Shawn Campbell, age 9, with the postscript “SOJ.”

    “Save Our Jets.”

    Over the painting, the museum offers a quote from Pablo Picasso: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

    In Canada, every child is a hockey player. The problem is how to remain a hockey player once he grows up and sees the National Hockey League has skipped town.

    “SOJ,” spray-painted on walls and etched into telephone poles across this prairie metropolis, is a lost cause. The Jets could not be saved. They are headed south next season to become the Phoenix Coyotes. It is the second Canadian-team exit in as many years. And many north of the border believe the NHL will continue to rob its own cradle.

    This was once unthinkable.

    Gil Stein, a former NHL president, once said: “There is so much Winnipeg in what hockey represents. The moral backbone of the game is kept strong in a city like this.”

    If that is true, then hockey now is pulling up its own magnificent roots.

    They date to the 1800s, when teams traveled by dog sleds across Canada to battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup, professional sports’ oldest prize. There is the long duel between the nation’s English and French sides to produce the finest talent, one that persists today in the Mario Lemieux vs. Wayne Gretzky debates. The sheer passion of the people for the sport has never dimmed, and it extends beyond just their NHL team, to all levels, mites to senior citizens’ leagues.

    While one generation of Canadians now mourns, the next may look somewhere other than frozen ponds for heroes.

    “As a kid, watching the NHL gave you something to play for,” said Randy Gilhen, a Winnipeg native who grew up to become a center with these departing Jets. “We didn’t feel like we were a million miles away from everyone.”

    For a people that revere hockey above all else, losing the NHL is nothing less than a tragedy.

    Glenn Tully and his wife, Marge, have been making the 35-mile haul into Winnipeg to see their Jets since 1972. On this night of the final regular-season home game, they will stop 100 feet short.

    Their old pickup truck pulls in front of Winnipeg Arena. Their two boys, 12 and 14 years old, leap out playfully. For this game, the tickets are theirs.

    “This one’s for the kids,” Tully said, smiling. “They’ll probably never get to see an NHL game again, but at least they can say they were there once, that they got to see our Jets. Maybe they can tell their children someday.”

    * * *

    The Jets are leaving.

    The people of Winnipeg have known this for several months now. They have endured the entire 1995-96 season as a lame-duck participant. They even packed their 15,400-seat arena for a makeshift funeral last summer as the franchise logo was hoisted to the rafters.

    The Coolest Game on Earth is seeing yet another of its teams migrate south to a warmer climate. Last year, the Quebec Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche. Next season, the sub-zero Jets will take off for the Valley of the Sun.
    In this city of 600,000 that is remarkable only by its incredible isolation and flatness – Pat Burns, the former Toronto coach, once quipped: “It’s the only city where you can watch your dog run away for three days” – they mourn the passing of a civic treasure, their only major professional sports franchise, one they surely will never recover. These friendly, laidback people have spent their emotions, vented their anger, and now it is over.

    Last summer, when the team was put up for sale by the local owners, more than 35,000 gathered in front of the Manitoba legislature building, the province’s largest rally of any kind in 50 years. They sought government aid, but many also contributed. They left money on the doorstep.

    “I don’t have a job yet, but I took down $10,” said Sean Jones, a student at the University of Winnipeg. “That’s not much, but it’s all I could do. Everyone had to do something . . . there were so many people.”

    People like Tully, a farmer from a village “so small the name wouldn’t mean a thing to you.” His family slips through life on a subsistence income that comes from four-months-a-year wheat harvesting.

    “I left a check for $1,000. That team is everything to us and, more importantly, to our children.”

    Tully was among the lucky ones. When the sale fell through, his money was returned because it could be traced. The cash left on the steps could not. Instead, it was donated to the local United Way.

    One-day total: $250,000.

    In all, About $13 million was raised by the public sector, and it appeared the team would be purchased by a group of local businessmen dubbed The Spirit of Manitoba. But they fell short of cash.

    So when the premier of Manitoba, Gary Filmon, rejected a plan to buy the Jets and pay for the new arena by legalizing gambling, all Winnipeg had bought was one more year.

    “See that empty seat? That’s where Gary Filmon used to sit,” said Winnipeg Sun columnist Ed Willes, pointing to Winnipeg Arena’s west side. “Ever since the death threats, he doesn’t come here anymore.”

    Filmon isn’t the only target of the fans’ wrath. Forward Keith Tkachuk, the NHL’s third-highest paid player this season at $6 million, became a symbol of the league’s new salary structure and was frequently booed. Former owner Barry Shenkarow, a lifelong Winnipegger, had been losing millions, but was accused of selling out.

    After a failed attempt by Minnesota businessmen to move the team there, the Jets were bought by Jerry Colangelo, owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks.

    Winnipeg is not among the NHL’s smaller cities, but it is the smallest market.

    “It’s not like there are suburbs here,” noted Gilhen, a member of the Penguins’ 1991 Stanley Cup championship team. “That’s the thing that makes what these people did so unbelievable, how they all rallied. I saw kids crying while they were emptying their piggy banks, carrying jars of pennies. You can’t imagine how that touches you, how it hurts.”

    It has touched other players, as well.

    Randy Carlyle, a Jets assistant coach who won the Norris Trophy as a Penguins defenseman in 1981, was reminiscing after a morning skate. He looked up at the huge, old Queen Elizabeth portrait that is the most recognizable symbol of the rickety, 46-year-old Winnipeg Arena.

    “Leaving here just seems so wrong,” Carlyle said, scraping his stick along the ice. “So many memories. So many …”

    In 1972, the Jets were an original member of the old World Hockey Association. They gave the league instant credibility by signing superstar Bobby Hull to a $1 million deal that rocked the NHL.

    In that same decade, Winnipeg won three AVCO Cups and forever changed the face of hockey by becoming the first professional team to employ several European stars and their offensive style, one of constant motion and cycling.

    The Jets enjoyed less success after becoming one of the four WHA teams to merge into the NHL in 1979. They advanced to the second round of playoffs only once. But fan support never waned, even to the team’s dying days.

    Just ask defenseman Norm Maciver, traded to the Jets by the Penguins in December for Neil Wilkinson. He scored the winning goal in the regular-season home finale. It put Winnipeg in the playoffs, prolonging the team’s stay and sending the raucous, white-clad crowd into a frenzy.

    “I’ve heard about the White Out crowds here, but when I scored, you could just see this huge sea of white explode around you. It’s incredible,” Maciver said. “I still have regrets about being traded from Pittsburgh, but I’ve had experiences and memories here that I’ll never forget. These people deserve better than this.”

    Some Canadians feel the NHL will get its just desserts by trying to plant hockey in the desert.

    “When these salaries are way out of control and nobody in Arizona knows the difference between a puck and a cactus, the NHL will come crawling back to us,” says Jim McBride, a Winnipeg taxi driver. “You’ll see.”

    That’s not likely.

    The NHL, enamored by its recent ties with the Fox television network and being run by former NBA executive Gary Bettman, sees no future in small Canadian markets such as Winnipeg. This is the nouveau league that is embracing FoxTrax, that glowing puck with the comet tail on Fox telecasts. The entire game is being geared toward television. Bettman believes the path to NBA-style success will be measured by the NHL’s ability to fill America’s top 25 TV markets with franchises. Remember, the highest-rated show in Canada doesn’t register a blip on the U.S. Nielsen ratings.

    At its peak, Canada had eight NHL franchises. Soon, people here fear, it will be just three. Only Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are on solid footing. The rest plead for currency equalization, generous subsidies and anything that will allow them to stay competitive and stay put.

    Some suggest revenue sharing.

    “Ha! It’ll never happen in the NHL. Never, ever,” said Don Cherry, the wildly popular color commentator on Hockey Night in Canada. “You’ll never get someone from Boston or New York to share money with a place like Winnipeg or Edmonton.”

    Last year, Quebec abruptly announced its move to Denver following its final playoff game. The provincial and federal governments rejected plans to build a new arena. The Nordiques’ fans, who filled Le Colisee even during hard times, were quickly resigned to their fate. A rally to save the team drew only 15 fans. There is still no professional hockey team in Quebec City.

    Winnipeg was next. Edmonton may soon follow. The Oilers must sell 13,000 season tickets, all dasher board advertising and all luxury boxes by mid-May. Two months ago, Bettman warned if the deadline was not met, “it will not be us leaving Edmonton, it will be Edmonton telling us to go.”

    Cherry said the NHL is not the villain.

    “I hated to see Quebec leave, I hate to see Winnipeg leave. It’s a sad, sad thing. But the reality of the situation is, if players are going to get $6 million a year, teams just can’t stay in small markets. It’s life. There’s nothing you can do. The NHL has taken a bum rap. It’s not a case of the Americans taking our game away. If cities like Phoenix weren’t there to take a team like the Jets, there just wouldn’t be a team, period.”

    Calgary and Ottawa also are small Canadian markets whose fortunes on and off the ice have floundered under Bettmanomics. The Flames won the Stanley Cup in 1989, but have since made several cost-cutting moves that contributed to a miserable run of playoff failures. The Senators, since joining the NHL in 1993, have produced league lows in wins and attendance.

    “Let’s hope that five years from now, the league will wise up so this doesn’t happen again,” said the Jets’ Gilhen. “I only wish it hadn’t happened to us.”

    So does Hull, the Golden Jet, who received a hero’s welcome in Winnipeg at the regular-season finale: “I worry about this city. I worry about next winter. I worry how people are going to feel when it’s the middle of January and they don’t have a team anymore. It’s a great loss.”

    The anger is almost as prevalent in Winnipeg as the sadness, particularly among young people.

    On the eve of the regular-season finale, a punk rock club is jammed with college students. The crowd is atypically quiet as the lead singer for Slaves on Dope takes the stage in a Jets jersey, his hair bright red and blue. “Hey, no mourning tonight, Canadians!” he screams by way of introduction. “We’ve still got one more night of hockey!” The crowd jeers.

    Karen Johnson, a student, is one of them: “What does anyone know about hockey in Phoenix? What right do Americans have to steal our sport? The old people here don’t care as much, but we grew up with the Jets. What’s left for us?”

    And what will become of those who are even younger? Many never will see an NHL game. Someday, the league may feel the backlash. About 60 percent of the NHL’s talent is Canadian-born. Of the 28 players on the Penguins’ current playoff roster, 16 are from Canada.

    * * *

    Next season, Winnipeg will likely be the new home of the International Hockey League’s Minnesota Moose, who are planning a move there.

    It won’t be the same.

    “They couldn’t have done anymore than they did in Winnipeg,” Cherry said. “The kids and their piggy banks, pensioners bringing in their money . . . but it was too late. They tried their best.”

    In Winnipeg, you can find an ice rink on every three blocks. Compare that to just four in all of Arizona, including America West Arena, where the Coyotes will play – and teach children – this fall.

    “We’ll have Keith Tkachuk and Eddie Olczyk showing them how to play street hockey,” said Rich Nairn, the Jets’ public relations director. “It’ll be tough. You know, `This is a puck, kids.’ ”

    Canadian kids, meanwhile, will make sure their game survives, Gilhen said. “The sport is bigger than all of us. It’s like football in Pittsburgh. If the Steelers left, people would keep on playing football.”

    Gilhen’s son, Scott, is 4 years old. Someday soon, Scott will glide on his first pair of skates. Further down the road, his father will tell stories about his NHL career. Recanting his championship season with the Penguins will be easy. Explaining why there is no NHL team in Winnipeg won’t.

    “I’ve thought about that a lot lately,” Gilhen said. “How do I explain to him how we had all this and lost it? The kids are the big losers. They don’t understand business. They just know their Jets are leaving.”

    DK: Thank you so much for finding this, Michael. I haven’t seen it myself in a long, long time.

  107. Patrick says:

    As if we needed another reason to hate the world wide leader. They are seriously having this convo right now:

    “Could Tim Tebow have led the 49’ers to the Super Bowl”

  108. LuckyNKentucky says:

    Did that take up the whole front page on 4-28-96? That’s a long one, but a good one.

    DK: Portion of it started out front. Runover took up a full page.

  109. Patrick says:

    “When these salaries are way out of control and nobody in Arizona knows the difference between a puck and a cactus, the NHL will come crawling back to us,” says Jim McBride, a Winnipeg taxi driver. “You’ll see.”

    Somebody find that man and ask him what the score of the upcoming super bowl will be….

    @DK I almost wished I hadn’t read this. You might have jumped the shark with this one. Excellent excellent excellent.

  110. b-money says:

    “When these salaries are way out of control and nobody in Arizona knows the difference between a puck and a cactus, the NHL will come crawling back to us,” says Jim McBride, a Winnipeg taxi driver. “You’ll see.”

    Jim McBride needs to be hired by NHL Strategy… yesterday.

  111. Jandy says:

    I felt like these people did when there was talk of Pittsburgh moving to Kansas. I was sick. Then to have it all work out, made it seem like a nightmare. Those people in WInnipeg were living a nightmare….until they woke up again and their team was back. How good does that feel? That’s something I’ll never know. Nor do I care to find out.

    Ahhhh Dejan, no wonder you love Winnipeg so much. It’s a heart connection. <3

  112. Patrick says:

    I vaguely remember the Jets leaving. I was still only a sports fan and didn’t really grasp or appreciate the economics behind it all.

    Ignorance is bliss. So much of how we appreciate sports is compromised by what we know about its economics. Even in the blog the other day we had people admitting that their biggest problem with P Martin had to do with the level of expectations based on his salary. A turnover by Martin was somehow more egregious than one by Niskanen.

    How much has economics permeated PBC talks? Could we even have a decent discussion about baseball WITHOUT economics coming up? Meh..blah…

    Bettman still sucks. Slaves on Dope needs to reunite and write a song of that title.

  113. GSmomx2 says:

    Loved the article! Please keep the stories, videos, and pics coming from Winnipeg, too. Enjoying it, as always!

  114. Bizrow says:

    That was a great article, Dejan.

    Reminds me to ask us all to thank Richard Caliguiri and Kevin McClatchey for saving our Buccos from the same fate. In spite of all the grief that club costs us ;-)

    And of course Mario and Mr. Burkle

  115. LuckyNKentucky says:

    A full-page runover from a person who was designing pages and overseeing the night editing. Guess they saw the potential after that.

    I agree with the cab driver. I always thought putting hockey in Arizona was like putting a Ruth’s Cris inside a McDonalds’ lobby. But what do I know, especially about hockey?

    Even Florida seems strange for hockey. I guess they don’t play Jai Alai in Canada. That’s Drew’s favorite sport.

  116. 21sthebest says:

    Lucky, my parents used to tell me stories of watching Jai Alai in Florida on their honeymoon in 1947. Thanks for bringing back that memory to me.

  117. Pitt DE Michael says:

    you are welcome Sir

  118. Dom says:

    Thanks for posting that article, Pitt DE Michael. A great read.

  119. TJA says:

    Thanks, Dejan. A wonderful personal story you are sharing with us.

  120. Iceman says:

    I started reading this blog a little over a year ago and many times have thought about posting comments but it is just not my thing, however, I had to come on here today to say, “Thank you,” to DK for sharing his passion and why he writes today. I certainly don’t always agree with everything you write, but this was an incredible look into the mind of a passionate sports writer. I was also inspired by your article from the Jets leaving Winnepeg. Interesting how many times you mentioned that it would be very unlikely for the Jets to ever return, and here we are in 2013 with you in Winnepeg turning boiling water into snow with the locals.

    Thanks again for sharing your passion.

  121. NMR says:

    I like the Bryson comparison, Chuck.

    I’ve never found someone who doesn’t enjoy A Walk in the Woods, regardless of whether or not they’re an outdoorsman.

    Dejan’s writing is similar. Almost makes you forget you’re reading about sports sometimes.

  122. Dom says:

    I apologize if this was brought up before but the Bleacher Report ranked all MLB farm systems and dem Buccos came in at #1.

    It might not be the most acclaimed site out there but it’s nice that someone anked us as the best.

  123. tmp444 says:

    @ Biz re: Caliguiri/McClatchey – amen to that.

  124. djpirates says:

    DK: So, did the paper cover your out of pocket expenses? Least they could do since they posted your article on the front page of the Sunday edition.

    DK: No, it did not.

  125. Patrick says:

    Right now #Yakupov is trending nationally on Twitter. This makes me very, very happy.

  126. Jandy says:

    Patrick, thanks for the heads up. I like the kid. Glad he isn’t afraid to flaunt tradition, but watch his get toasted for it.

  127. Dom says:

    I’m surprised that poutine stuff wasn’t any good. It was located all of Canada so I assumed there was something to it. I’ll make sure to skip that if I ever head north of the boarder.

  128. Jandy says:

    Oh yes, Bigfugginugly plays for the Peg…that guy is HUGE.

  129. Scott Lamont says:

    We were doing that Hot Water trick here – it is neat to see.

    So, Winnipeg is about as far from me as St Paul, 3.5 hrs – do you recommend the drive up to see the City there or is it just another Canadian City?

  130. Patrick says:


    Hes one of those football players on skates i was talking about. The league better hope he never discovers salads and a treadmill.

  131. Jandy says:

    Honestly, Patrick, I make fun of the idea of football players on skates, but Dustin Byfuglien is just that! I don’t know how he does it. He has size like Hal Gill but with LOTS of mobility.

  132. Patrick says:


    I know. at some point the force placed upon the edge of skates has to give out. I mean, the thin line being carved in ice can only take so much force. But if he ever lost some of his excess “Buff” he would be lethal. If I work for Winnipeg I’m hiring Scary Gary just for him.

  133. NMR says:

    Whoa, whoa, whoa…who’s trash talkin’ poutine?! Don’t knock it ’til you try it, man. My pro tip is the addition of some sweet roasted peppers.

    Jandy, you have me dyin’ with Bigfugginugly. I’m stealing that one from you.

  134. Dom says:

    Is there any place I can buy that in the Burgh, NMR?

    Also, Mark Madden stated that DK will be on his radio in a ½ hour.

  135. Patrick says:

    Am I the only one who Poutine sounds like some weird French Soda?

  136. NMR says:

    @Dom – Not that I know of, although if I had any business sense at all I would open a stand.

    Fries, gravy, and cheese. Those are practically food groups in Pittsburgh.

  137. Patrick says:

    OOOH..So THATS what Poutine is.

    Dear god…I feel fatter from just reading the Wikipedia page.

  138. lawnbeaver says:

    Did anyone else think that DK’s ice patch looked like Texas?

  139. Patrick says:

    My wife and I decided we will have Poutine tonight. Pittsburgh Style.

    Which means our French fries with gravy and cheese curds will be topped with coleslaw and..well…more french fries. So if I don’t post anything on Monday its been fun jawing with the other krazies, and please donate to the American Heart Association.

  140. wowotrain says:

    Franktuary sells Poutine on the food truck or at the new Lawrenceville location.

  141. Arriba Wilver says:

    How’d you get the avatar, Patrick?

  142. NMR says:

    Make sure you go Fries>curds>gravy. Gravy melting the curds produces best results.

  143. RobertoForever says:


    Thanks for the welcome back. Schedule so busy, almost can’t keep up on the blog, nonetheless comment.

    I had a nice meaty comment on the rotation, but when I hit submit, my browser closed. So the short version – on paper, this is the best opening day rotation in many years. Can’t wait for opening day.

  144. RobertoForever says:

    nice to be seen, even if just a cameo, :)

    DK: Hi, RF. Bye, RF.

  145. NMR says:

    Thanks for the heads up! Wish it was on the menu downtown.

  146. LuckyNKentucky says:

    Next, he’ll be running down there every chance he gets. :)

  147. JHadar says:

    Put me down for curious about that, too. Are there instructions somewhere?

  148. 21sthebest says:

  149. 21sthebest says:

    Except it didn’t work.

  150. 21sthebest says:

    And it still hasn’t.

  151. djpirates says:

    Poutine is in Pittsburgh at Station Street Hot Dogs in East Liberty

  152. […] Tribune:  How Winnipeg changed my life.  Great […]

  153. pattonbb says:

    I kinda like these boxes.
    But, I’m easily amused.

  154. John Lease says:

    It’s got reply. Plus I couldn’t find it for a few days.

  155. Keith says:

    Dejan, I’m a day late catching up to the blog, but I’m glad I did. It’s amazing how sharing an experience with people who are complete strangers can change your life. Thanks for sharing.

  156. […] We talk about how Winnipeg changed Dejan’s life back in 1996.  Read his article here call … Friday Wakeup Call: How Winnipeg changed my life […]

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