Winnipeg’s Important Role In My Own NHL Fandom (And Kanye West Weighs In On the Big News)

It wasn’t a surprise but it was nice to have it made official today – the Atlanta Thrashers have been purchased by True North Sports and will be moved to Winnipeg next season – though it’s still not known if they’ll be called the Jets or something else.

When St. Louis had their training camp in Regina in the early 1980’s (back when there were serious rumours of the Blues relocating to Saskatchewan if you can believe it!)  I got to see the Blues against the Oilers in a pre-season game including Wayne Gretzky even playing a couple shifts.

Beyond that, my opportunities to see live NHL hockey were pretty limited living in the midst of the Canadian prairies.  But when Dave Karpa, a local boy made good ended up playing for the Quebec Nordiques, a busload of guys from Indian Head (including my dad and I) made the five hour drive to see the Jets play the Nordiques in my first-ever regular season NHL game.

(Side note: Dave Karpa was a couple years older than me so I never played ice hockey with him.  But we happened to live on the same street so we did play a lot of road hockey.  I joke that my best connection to the NHL is that I stopped the frozen tennis ball slap shots of a future NHL’er with my testicles on a regular basis!)

So yeah, that road trip to see the Jets vs. Nords was an awesome experience.  The classic Winnipeg Arena with the giant portrait of the Queen hanging at the end of the arena.  Teemu Selanne got a hat trick.  And after the game (it must’ve been the last one before the NHL’s Christmas break?), “Beans” (as Karpa was nicknamed) caught a ride back to Indian Head on our bus!

That was somewhere around 1992 or 1993 maybe and was pretty much the only NHL game I would get to for another decade.  When we lived in Calgary from 2001-2004, I got to quite a few games thanks to the generosity of family and friends who had season tickets (and I occasionally coughed up on my own too!)

Tickets were expensive but I still kick myself that I didn’t drop the $500 for season tickets in the nose bleeds for the 2004 season, the year when the Flames went on their magical run to the Cup Finals.  That would’ve given me first dibs on playoff tickets so I could’ve gotten to a few games (and more than made up the cost of the season tickets by scalping any I didn’t use!) instead of the lone playoff tilt I got to.  It was a good one to attend though – the Flames’ first playoff game after seven straight years of missing the playoffs.

Anyhow, I’m glad to hear that NHL hockey will be returning to the Canadian prairies.  Perhaps in ten or fifteen years, I’ll be creating a similar memory for Pace when we take a road trip to Winnipeg for a game.  Or who knows, maybe he’ll be the heavily muscled, well-dressed guy getting on the bus after a game that a bunch of his hometown family and friends have traveled hours to attend!


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