Tomorrow at 7:30 the new Winnipeg Jets will face off against the old Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. Actually it's the new Jets vs the Phoenix Coyotes, but they are the franchise that once called Winnipeg home.
This is one of the most anticipated games of the season and in many ways one of the most anticipated sporting events in the history of Winnipeg. But why is that?
Shane Doan is the only player left on the Coyotes that played for the original Jets and after that there is are no players or management involved with the Coyotes that moved over with the team in 1996.
To understand why this is such a huge game for fans, one must understand what this city went through when the Jets left. In 1996, the NHL was fully entrenched in it's Southern Experiment. Teams had been granted to cities like Tampa Bay, Anaheim and Miami (Florida Panthers)
Back in Winnipeg the Jets were losing bucket loads of money and playing in the Winnipeg Arena which was completely inadequate for the NHL. (Although personally I loved the place)
When it became clear that the Jets were indeed going to be sold, it was originally thought that they would be moving to Minneapolis. They had lost the North Stars only a few years previous and
it seemed like a good fit. At least if we were going to lose the team they would be going to a northern city that appreciated hockey and had just lost it's team. Then the news came that the team would go to Phoenix. This is when Winnipeg fans became enraged. They were going to take our team and put them in the desert. To add insult to injuy they renamed them the Coyotes and gave them, in my opinion, the worst jerseys in NHL history.
In many Winnipeger's minds, The Jets moving to Arizona was the greatest example of Gary Bettman and the NHL ripping teams from small market Canadian cities in an attempt to expand hockey to non-traditional markets. What's even more sad is that Gary Bettman and then Jets owner Barry Shankarow had death threats towards themselves and their families.
After the team left it became an accepted fact for many years that the NHL would never return to Winnipeg, but 15 years later we have a team and they are rightfully called the Winnipeg Jets. The Phoenix Coyotes may not be the same team that left here in 96, but what the Phoenix franchise means to this city is huge. They are the Jets that left supposedly for greener and richer pastures and now they are back playing the new Winnipeg Jets. It will be an electric and emotional atmosphere at MTS Centre tomorrow night.