CBC Digital Archives

Au revoir Nords, save our Jets!

Canada is a hockey nation, but has had a heck of a time preventing its hockey franchises from going south. From the (then) defunct Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordiques to financial messes in Edmonton and Ottawa, the CBC has followed the ups and downs of Canada's small-market NHL teams as they forever skate on thin ice.

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1995 is a very bad year for small-market hockey in Canada. In Quebec City, last-ditch efforts by the province to bail out the Nordiques end in failure, and fans are resigned to seeing the team sold to Denver. In Winnipeg, the situation is the same, but the response couldn't be more different. There are massive demonstrations and songs about the Jets; media moguls pledge millions and strippers donate their tips. A tale of two cities and their desperate hockey hopes.
• The Quebec Nordiques were an original member of the WHA in 1972. They convinced hockey legend Maurice richard to be the team's first coach, but he stepped down after their first game, a loss, saying that coaching wasn't for him.
• In 1976-77 the Nordiques won the WHA's championship, the Avco Cup. In 1979 the team joined the NHL. They made the playoffs several times and won their division in 1985-86, but never made the finals.

• In 1991, the Nordiques used their number one draft pick to select sensation Eric Lindros. Seeing a last place team in a primarily French marketplace that would present few endorsement possibilities, Lindros refused to play for Quebec. Instead, he returned to his minor league Oshawa Generals. Quebecers were understandably furious at the snub. Lindros was derided in the press and many fans boycotted a Team Canada game at the Coliseum (a game that team member Lindros didn't show up for).

• Eric Lindros was eventually traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for six players, a draft pick and cash. The new players turned the Nordiques around dramatically, but fans still felt the sting of Lindros rejecting their city.
• Quebec City was the smallest market of the 26 teams in the NHL. The team played in an arena built in 1940s; without luxury boxes, efficient concession booths or a major television contract, financial problems were inevitable.

• In the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, owner Marcel Aubut demanded a new arena and debt relief from the provincial government. A bailout package worth about $50 million was rejected by the owners as insufficient, and in May 1995 the Nordiques were sold to Denver, Colo., for $75 million. The Nordiques played their last game on May 16, 1995.

• Winnipeg has been a hockey hotbed for over a century, with the Winnipeg Victorias winning the Stanley Cup in 1896 and 1901. The Winnipeg Jets entered the WHA in 1972, powered by superstar Bobby Hull and two Swedish linemates (a novelty at the time). Hull missed the first 15 games due to legal problems with the NHL but, even so, scored 51 goals in the rest of that first season. The Jets won the Avco Cup three times.

• In 1979 the Winnipeg Jets joined the NHL, but lost their star players in the move. In 1995 rumours surfaced that the Jets would be sold to Minnesota. On May 6, 1995, a "funeral" was held, where each player said goodbye to the fans. Unwilling to lose the team, a massive grassroots "Save Our Jets" campaign was mounted. On May 16 some 35,000 people attended a huge rally at the Forks. A fundraising effort eventually raised millions toward keeping the team afloat.

• A local ownership group called the Spirit of Manitoba offered to buy the team from owner Barry Shenkarow in July 1995. The bid was eventually rejected, but Shenkarow agreed to keep the team in Winnipeg for one more season. The Jets played their last game on April 28, 1996.

• Winnipeg got an NHL team again in 2011-12 after buying the Atlanta Thrashers from their owner. The team was renamed the Winnipeg Jets.  
Medium: Television
Program: Prime Time News
Broadcast Date: May 16, 1995
Guest(s): Israel Asper, Jean Martineau, Jacques Parizeau
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Tom Kennedy, Reg Sherren
Duration: 4:32
Hockey footage: National Hockey League Cartoon: Aislin (Terry Mosher)

Last updated: April 19, 2012

Page consulted on October 21, 2014

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