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The original Winnipeg Jets were reluctant to leave in 1996

The economics of NHL hockey just weren't working for Winnipeg any more, and the team was headed to Phoenix after the last playoff game.

The last game before the franchise was moved south took place April 28, 1996

Last game for the (original) Winnipeg Jets

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25 years ago
2:27
After losing to Detroit in Game 6 of the 1996 playoffs, the Jets and their fans are reluctant to say goodbye. 2:27

The economics of NHL hockey just weren't working for Winnipeg any more, and the franchise would be headed to Arizona.

A fan with a painted face cheers on the Jets at the Winnipeg Arena. (Newsworld/CBC Archives)

But first they had a game to play.

CBC reporter Mark Lee summed up the action for a report that aired on Newsworld, CBC's 24-hour news channel, the day after that last game on April 28, 1996.

"With an 0-for-28 power play, it was clear there would be no coming back on the Red Wings," said Lee as fans continued to cheer for the team, which would lose 4-1 to Detroit. "The Jets were gone for good."

With that, the Jets were knocked out in Game 6 of the first playoff round, four wins to two.

The game was over, but the players and fans didn't quite seem ready to believe it. 

'Best fans in the league'

"The fans, they stuck it out and they stood behind us," said player Kris King in the Jets' dressing room afterward. "They showed why they're the best fans in the league."

Players who had cultivated playoff beards wasted no time shaving them off after losing Game 6. (Newsworld/CBC Archives)

Even after the last horn, the players were slow to leave the ice, absorbing the cheers of fans and waving goodbye.  

Inside the locker room, said Lee, "reality set in."

Players stood at the mirror to shave off playoff beards, and Keith Tkachuck had yet to take off his pads long after everyone else was dressed.

"We're going to miss it," he said. "We're obviously hurt that we're out of the playoffs but if this is the way to do it, then I'm glad that I played my last game here."

'In a daze'

Jets president and owner Barry Shenkarow was in the dressing room, too.

"I think the team should have stayed," said Winnipeg Jets owner Barry Shenkarow. "We should have found a way to do it." (Newsworld/CBC Archives)

Visibly distraught by the knowledge that it was all over for the Jets, he wandered the room "in a daze' as things would down.

"It's too late," he said. "That's it."

Flagging attendance in recent years and the unfavourable exchange rate — salaries were paid in U.S. dollars — took a toll on the hockey club's bottom line.

"I feel for the young kids out there that really don't understand why this team is leaving," said centre Eddie Olczyk. "The business aspect of sky boxes and suites and TV revenue."

Olczyk went on to have a broadcasting career with NBC after retiring from hockey.

Long after the game, despondent fans stayed in the stands at the Winnipeg Arena. (Newsworld/CBC Archives)

"Yesterday afternoon after the cheering had died," summed up Lee, "there was just resignation." 

Fifteen years later, Jets fans heard the news they'd long been dreaming of: NHL hockey was coming back.

The struggling Atlanta Thrashers franchise was purchased by a new ownership group in Winnipeg and rebranded as the Jets. They would start the 2011-2012 season in a new building in downtown Winnipeg.

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