The final game in Winnipeg Jets history was a home playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings. That was April 28th, 1996. Now, almost 15 years later, the Phoenix Coyotes could suffer the same fate.
Both Niklas Lidstrom and Kris Draper were members of the Red Wings team that put the final stake into the Jets’ heart.
I just remember the whiteout,” Draper said of that final game. “And I remember when we were skating off the ice, the Winnipeg Jets stayed on the ice for a long time. That’s something that I remember.”
It would be somewhat strange to see the Red Wings once again be the final opponent for this battered franchise.
There will be another whiteout tonight. And, contrary to what many people think, there will be thousands of fans who will be hopelessly disappointed if tonight is the final game in Phoenix Coyotes history.
It’s always difficult when a team leaves a region. Yes, the Coyotes may not have the best attendance in the league and they may not be a profitable team. Maybe the sport of hockey does not mean as much to the people of Phoenix as it does to the people of Winnipeg. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t fans who care about this team and who want the Coyotes to stay.
While the people of Winnipeg may be dancing in the streets at the prospect of the Coyotes returning, there are also many people in Phoenix who are dreading the exact same thing.
“Just because we’re not Canada doesn’t mean that we’re not hockey fans,” Heather Schroeder, president of the Phoenix Coyotes Booster Club, told the National Post.
“What [Winnipeg Jets fans are] forgetting is that they’re making us feel the way they felt 14 years ago, when the Jets were stolen from them. And while we all appreciate their position, and how much they want a team back, them being nasty to us is not helping them. It makes everyone want to fight that much harder to keep the team out of their hands. You used to be able to see Jets jerseys walking around the arena, and it was kind of a sign of respect to the heritage of the franchise. Now? They’re the enemy. And it shouldn’t be that way.”
Whenever a team moves, the fans in the city that the team is moving to are obviously excited. This is especially true in this particular situation, since the Jets would be returning home after a long absence. However, the fans in the the city that lost the team are also understandably upset.
Fans in Quebec City, Winnipeg and Hartford still miss their hockey teams, even years after the teams themselves moved on. There may not be such a fanbase as large and dedicated in Phoenix, but that doesn’t mean that many people won’t be affected by the Coyotes closing up shop. The players and their families will have to move. Children will have to change schools and lose friends. Bars and restaurants around the arena will likely suffer as well. It’s not all sunshine, roses and giant portraits of Queen Elizabeth.
There’s nothing wrong with the people of Winnipeg being excited about the prospect of the Coyotes moving back north. It’s completely understandable. The fans should be excited. They should be thrilled.
However, while they’re cheering for the Red Wings tonight, we hope they take a moment to remember how they felt 15 years ago and have a bit of sympathy for the fans in Phoenix. They could be losing a team tonight.
Oh, and if the team moves, please call them the “Winnipeg Jets” again, not the “Manitoba Somethings.”