April 28, 1996 – The Winnipeg Jets played their final game at the Winnipeg Arena, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Red Wings. It was a moment that everyone knew was coming, as it had already been announced coming into that year that this would be the last season for the Jets in Winnipeg.
“People were in tears, and I had to work hard to keep mine back,” recalled Joe Daley, who was a goalie with the Jets for seven years (1972-1979). “Just the thought of a team that I was a part of, that started in 1972, and I think, from that perspective it was probably harder on me than some of the other people. Because when you lose something you were part of for seven years and sort of a pioneer of, it was very difficult.”
[Here is a video of the last minute of the final Winnipeg Jets game.]
Long-time Jet Thomas Steen said the reality of the franchise heading to the desert didn’t seem real.
“I was pretty okay with (the decision to leave) at that time,” said Steen, who played with the Jets from 1981-1995. “It was ’95 when the team was sold, (was when it was) worse. That came hard because you heard the rumours, but you didn’t actually believe it was going to happen. But then it happened.”
While the love for the franchise has never seemed to waver in Winnipeg, only now, with the financial woes in Phoenix and now in Atlanta, has the idea of NHL hockey returning to the province of Manitoba become a tangible reality.
Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz said Wednesday he was not convinced that it will be the Phoenix Coyotes returning.
“Do I believe the Coyotes are coming to Winnipeg – my answer would be no,” said Katz. “I don’t believe that. I believe the Coyotes will stay in Phoenix and they will do everything they can, because I happen to know some of the commitments that were made when they went there. And there were commitments that – if they were not fulfilled – there could easily be a lawsuit. So I think you have to start looking at some of the other potential franchises.”
Sources say Atlanta is waiting for the league to determine the fate of the Coyotes.
According to sources, if a deal is made to keep the Coyotes in Glendale, there’s a chance the Thrashers will move quickly into negotiations with True North to move the team to Winnipeg.
A source close to the situation added that when it comes to relocation, there simply isn’t anywhere else to go.
There are also questions as to whether Thrashers ownership and True North could work out an agreement, but the possibility is not being ruled out.
If the NHL is unsuccessful in closing the deal and the Matthew Hulsizer sale crumbles, the Coyotes become the likely target for Winnipeg while the league’s attention will shift to the Thrashers and an effort to keep the team in Atlanta.
And like many fans, Daley feels it was only a matter of time before the Jets and the NHL would return to Winnipeg.
“I’ve sensed it for 20 years. People come in and still talk about the Jets. And even when there was no fever about (the team) coming back or possibly coming back, people would still talk about the Jets locally,” he said. “I think the reason is that team was born here, and people became attached to it in a big way.”
Maybe we’ll get a chance to buy our Winnipeg Jets season tickets after all?
Category: Jets History