Winnipeg-born NHLers praise hometown fans, rink
Sens winger Stone and Avalanche goalie Pickard, at city hall for award, speak to Winnipeg's desirability
A pair of Winnipeg-born NHL players are doing their part to dispel the notion their hometown is not a desirable pro-hockey destination.
Colorado Avalanche goalie Calvin Pickard and Ottawa Senators winger Mark Stone visited Winnipeg city hall on Tuesday to receive an award for sports excellence from Mayor Brian Bowman.
Both played a role in Canada's gold-medal showing at the World Hockey Championship in May.
Asked after the ceremony whether Winnipeg is a place NHLers want to play, both offered up an emphatic yes — while stressing they are not free agents themselves this summer.
"Coming in as a road team with the Avalanche, it's special to play in the MTS Centre," Pickard said.
Stone said the fans and the sold-out arena are draws unto themselves.
"I think every player wants to play that. Obviously when you get to Florida, the weather's great, but when you get to the rink, it doesn't feel like you're at a hockey rink," he said.
"I'm fortunate enough to play in Ottawa, which has the same thing. We have great fans and we fill our rink. I think anybody who gets a chance to play in front of a full rink appreciates it a lot more than sometimes good weather."
When the NHL returned to Winnipeg in 2011, there were questions about whether elite players and free agents would choose to play in the Manitoba capital.
The Winnipeg Jets helped dispel the notion the city is undesirable by signing restricted free agent centre Mark Scheifele to an eight-year, $49-million deal. In February, the Jets signed all-star defenceman Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year contract extension that will pay him an average of $7.6 million a year.