Winnipeg is a city in love with a team. The Jets are revered here. They are the pride of the people and the catalyst behind a seemingly sustained renaissance in this thriving western capital. The Jets, even in the midst of a lockout-threatened season, can do little wrong.
"It's going to be a long, cold winter without hockey," Angie said at the hotel front desk as she checked us in.
"We were pretty excited here last year. Let's hope they don't break our hearts again."
There's little chance of that happening.
Over at the gleaming new MTS Iceplex' where the Jets have their practice facility, there's evidence that the passion existing between the team and the community is still burning bright.
There are four sheets of ice and state-of-the-art fitness facilities, which are open to not only the professional club but also minor-hockey players, a university varsity program and the Manitoba Jr. Blues.
It's a palace for the frozen game and it exists because of Winnipeg's return to the NHL.
"We went without for many years," said Mark Chipman, a member of the NHL board of governors and chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment, the group which owns the Jets.
"The impact of the Jets return was immediately felt in the increased esteem of the community. We hope we can sustain that for many years to come."
On one of the rinks, locked-out players from various NHL franchises are winding up an informal workout. Jets defenceman Mark Stuart, the team's union representative, emerges to answer a few questions from a gaggle of media members. But the focus quickly shifts to the adjacent sheets as two groups of youngsters, elementary school kids, make their way to centre ice.
These are the members of the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Academy. Clad in official team colours, they come from disadvantaged backgrounds and, for some, this is the first time they've been on skates. The Academy has grown immensely in its first year of operation and there are now 450 rising stars getting a chance to play courtesy of the True North Foundation, which works in association with the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre.
At the outset, there are bodies littered all over the ice. They struggle mightily to stay upright and manage a cautious first few steps. There to help are the sure-footed instructors of the Academy, led by the program director Murray Cobb.
Cobb played university hockey with the McGill Redmen in Montreal and even spent a few years as a goalie with a pro league in Serbia. He has a Masters degree in social work and loves his role with the Jets Academy.
"It happens quickly," he beamed. "We see these kids go from Bambi on ice to goal-scorers in the matter of a few sessions."
Giving back is a theme which runs through the sporting experience. Too often the chance to be athletically active and to play organized games is seen as a luxury. It should be every young person's right to engage in sport with his or her peers. In Winnipeg, the people behind the Jets have seen to it that more local kids from a wider spectrum of backgrounds get that chance.
"We have to be mindful and respectful of the support the people of Winnipeg and Manitobans in general have given to our hockey team," said Dwayne Green, who heads up the True North Foundation.
"We should feel the need to return that support to the community."
Boys and girls of all descriptions join in the fun. There's even one disabled youngster who skims over the ice in a sled. Perhaps he aspires to be a member of Canada's powerful sledge hockey team one day.
There are countless pratfalls and collisions. But they can't derail what's happening here. These young players, all wearing the same uniform, the colours of the team they are now a part of, are expressing their affection for those who've made it possible.
There will be hockey in Winnipeg this winter. The team has seen to that. The love affair between the Jets and the people is growing stronger.
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