Manitoba

Winnipeg hockey fans await return of AHL franchise with open arms

Winnipeg will soon be home to two professional hockey teams, and hockey fans at the MTS Iceplex Thursday night said they await the Jets farm team with open arms.

Jets brass won't reveal farm team's Winnipeg name yet

The Jets' American Hockey League affiliate, currently known as the St. John's IceCaps, will relocate from Newfoundland and Labrador to Winnipeg for the 2015-16 season. 1:50
We're going to dig in and we're going to try and make this a home [for the AHL] that lasts for a long time.- Kevin Cheveldayoff, Jets general manager

Winnipeg will soon be home to two professional hockey teams, and hockey fans at the MTS Iceplex Thursday night said they await the Jets farm team with open arms.

The Jets' American Hockey League affiliate, currently known as the St. John's IceCaps, will relocate from Newfoundland and Labrador to the Manitoba capital for the 2015-16 season.

It will mark the return of the AHL to Winnipeg, which had the Manitoba Moose until True North Sports and Entertainment purchased the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers in 2011, moved the franchise north and renamed it the Jets.

The Moose moved to St. John's and were renamed the IceCaps. True North still owns the AHL team, which became the Jets' farm team.

Winnipeggers happy about AHL return

Brendan Arnold was happy to hear the news of the franchise’s return to Winnipeg.

"I think it's pretty cool to have the Moose back,” said Arnold, referring to the IceCaps. “It will be nice to have another team in Winnipeg."

Prices are cheaper, so dads can take their little boys and little girls. I think this is a good idea.- Linda Benson

Nick Doyle, who also fondly referred to the team by its old name, said he looks forward to watching to AHL hockey in person again.

"I like the Moose and it's fun hockey to watch,” said Doyle. “I went to about 10-15 games each year."

Dylan Stockl, who plays on the Winnipeg Warriors hockey team, said he thinks local sports fans always welcome more hockey.

“I think it's good for the city,” he said. “I think our fans will be happy to have them back."

Challenges, pros to having 2 pro teams

There could at first be certain logistical challenges facing the MTS Centre with two pro teams sharing the same ice, but Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said it will all work out in the long run. 

"We're well equipped with the IcePlex facility being state of the art with respect to four ice sheets and the availability of practice time," said Cheveldayoff. "Utilizing the IcePlex with fuller capacity, we believe there's going to be a unique way that both teams' needs get served."

The Jets GM said the organization is investing in infrastructure renewals and renovations to both the IcePlex and MTS Centre to accommodate both teams, and to help ensure that the AHL has a future in Winnipeg.

"We're going to dig in and we're going to try and make this a home that lasts for a long time," said Cheveldayoff. "You're going to see some building going on that is going to cement the commitment for the short-term and hopefully for the long term."

Allan Dreger said he thinks both teams stand to benefit from being in the same city.

The more hockey, the more entertainment for the city — what a wonderful thing.- Steve Gould

"I think it's a good idea. If they have to have a hockey player in a hurry, they can just call him up and he can be there [right away],” said Dreger.

And then there’s the promise of twice as much MTS Centre hockey to take in.

"I think it's great. Obviously True North did a great job the first time when the Moose were here and as you've seen they've done a fantastic job with the Jets,” said Steve Gould, a former Moose fan who went to about 15 games a year. “The more hockey, the more entertainment for the city — what a wonderful thing,"

Gould is still on the waiting list to get Jets season tickets. He said watching AHL-calibre players gives fans a glimpse at what differences there are between the leagues.

“You can always see the stepping stones, you know, these young guys making a mark for themselves. It's wonderful hockey.”

Linda Benson said bringing back an AHL team will make attending games at the MTS Centre more affordable.

"Prices are cheaper, so dads can take their little boys and little girls. I think this is a good idea,” said Benson.

What will be the team's name?

So what will the AHL team be called when it comes to Winnipeg? Cheveldayoff wouldn't say — at least, not yet.

"From a, you know, ticket sales and business standpoint, we're going to have a full rollout in due course," he told reporters on Thursday afternoon.

"So at this point in time, we're not making any commitments, you know, from a brand standpoint, and I think we'll have a big splash when things do get rolled out in the future."

Cheveldayoff did say that both the Jets and the AHL team will play at the MTS Centre. There has never been an NHL team that has shared an arena with its farm team, making the Jets-IceCaps arrangement a first for the league and for Winnipeg.

As for the viability of having both an NHL team and an AHL team in the same city, Cheveldayoff said he believes Winnipeg can support two professional hockey teams for the long term.

Click on the audio player in this story to hear Cheveldayoff's conference call with reporters.

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