Founder Chris Mackie
Chris lives Winnipeg Jets hockey.
May 31, 2011 brought the Grand Announcement of the NHL's return to Manitoba. Next to the birth of two children and wedding day it stands as one of the greatest days in his life. "I just won't rank them then I'll stay out of trouble!", a grinning Chris quips.
Photo Courtesy Winnipeg Free Press Rally at the Forks: Chris shown in Atlanta road white celebrating with long time friend Phil Bonomo.
Going all the way back, Chris cherishes trips to Winnipeg Arena with his dad, uncle and cousins while watching the Norris division Jets play the Blues or Blackhawks usually in the cheap seats that made up one endzone. "Those $7 McDonald's seats were the start of something special", says Chris. "We'd go and have a pre-game meal and I can still remember daydreaming about hoping to watch every NHL team with each pennant arranged in circles on McDonald's wall. Then we'd grab tickets and head over to the rink."
Photo Origin Unknown Via Google
"I can remember the day that I learned how the standings system worked and what it meant to make the playoffs", Chris added. "I also remember the game where I learned that the Colorado Rockies weren't going to be around. I found a Rockies pennant for sale that night at the arena because I wanted to remember the team. I had no idea that my own team would face a similar fate one day." Knowing that teams could come and go was "unsettling to say the least" Chris remembers. "I still have that pennant too." Judging by Chris' NHL shrine collecting NHL logos is a big part of the fan experience as many fans within WhiteoutNation can atest.
"I also remember my dad complaining about how his team got robbed when they left the WHA." Chris recounts, "Dad wasn't impressed at all and still is sore about it if you ask him today". It would be years later before that Jet history would start to become known to him like thousands of other kids growing up with the NHL, not knowing about the rival league that threatened its' existence.
Speed and the Oilers Kills
Over time to Jets switched from the Norris over to the Smythe and Chris fondly recollects that era of memories. "I remember how we had such giants within our division. Get past the Flames or Canucks and then face the Oilers; it wasn't fun struggling as a fan, but looking back on that speed, finesse all those teams had, I was thankful for it. Of course there was the Oilers on the brink of elimintion but I also recall a series where a new young goalie came up and stole games for us. Daniel Berthiaume seemed to shine some light when the team was clearly overmatched."
The off-ice drama was what really set off Chris. "So many of the trades and draft picks were wasted efforts. God rest his soul, his heart was in the right place, but John Ferguson did as much damage as good for the club. And Mike Smith really wasn't much better." The infamous battle with Chris' favorite defenceman was the last straw for Mike Smith in his mind. Phil Housley with much too much drink it is said got into a verbal war with Smith, ending only with Housley's 'request' for a trade out of Winnipeg. "Number 6 had whizardry in both his skates and stick. Phil could have easily played forward too. How many players can say that?", argued Chris. "Housley is remembered as a key reason Selanne broke the rookie scoring record", something Chris eagerly pointed out.
Then the reality of the arena replacement neverendum started to sink in. "I remember Dad being so mad that the governments were picking up team losses in 1991 with the 'Interim' Operating Agreement", said Chris. "I didn't know much about financials at the time being a teenager but the Jets made me learn real fast", Chris added. "Basically for five years of the IOA you had an underfunded owner who needed a modern rink to keep afloat with rocketing salaries making the current arena impossible to house an NHL team, a city council who loved coming to games free and making huge dollars off the Jets via the city landlord in Winnipeg Enterprises, but no level of government was going to commit to a new rink until it was too late in 1994 and 1995", summarized Chris. "Then the NHL signed that new CBA without a salary cap just to save a 48 game season. That to me was the NHL nailing coffins shut for Winnipeg, Quebec City, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton", a clealry dejected Chris recounts.
"I really thought that Barry Shenkarow was the villain for selling outside the community. Part of me still says he ultimately punted the Jets out of Manitoba but what would I do different if I was in his shoes? I know the ego battle between Izzy and Barry is what really killed all hope in the end, where both MEC and Spirit of Manitoba tossed in the towels", an empassioned Chris deduces. "The NHL mandated the Jets to build an NHL caliber arena in 1979. We threw an upper deck on as a 'temporary' measure until it could be built. The team leaves and the very building that the team needed and agreed to didn't get built until 2004 almost a decade after the team had left", an empassioned Chris explains.
Chris' last chance to hold onto history came that last year the team played. He ordered a real game weight Jets jersey through the team itself. "I remember the debate on who I should put on that jersey: Selanne, Steen or someone else? A gifted young player destined to be special or a heart and soul guy that has only played for one team. Number 25 Thomas Steen." While The Finnish Flash was destined to eclipse Steen's numbers, "I had to go with loyalty. Steen only played for Winnipeg so to me it was most fitting tribute to him and to the franchise", recalls Chris.
A New Beginning
"Most kids wore nice suits upon University graduation, I didn't.", Chris entices. His mind was made up long before May 1998. Chris delivers his punchline, "When I convocated at the University of Manitoba from Engineering, I wore a nice pair of slacks and my Jets Tshirt. I had already ruminated long enough to know that I was leaving town soon, just like the Jets did," Chris announced. So fitting his team's logo would be his choice upon his biggest day.
That fall Chris landed in Calgary. Naturally, any NHL city that despises the Oilers held a natural attraction for Chris. Chris adds, "City growth was crazy and so was the money or at least the lines of credit out there." For the 1999-2000 season Chris and soon-to-be-fiance Karen bought a Flames 10 game pack in the 300 level. The team won one game, tied one game. Craig Button was GM for the beleagured Flames. Chris recounts crowds were between 13 to 14,000 which "made the Dome look empty with it holding 19,900 nowadays". Chris lists the topsy-turvy Flames roster that season: "Martin St.Louis was a fourth liner doing little. Marc Savard was being another version of a young Tkachuk and got dumped to Atlanta. There were few other notables such as Clark Wilm and Chris Clark. But there was Number 12, every game every shift hammering someone out there. Never taking a night or shift off. Boy did Jarome care for the Flames." Needless to say Chris adopted the Flames as his team. "It wasn't the same as the Jets, no adopted team can be that", Chris adds.
Chris opens, "I'll never forget a Flames ad I saw in the Calgary Sun one day around that same time." In fact, it so moved Chir having lost his Jets he still has kept it. "It read 'Extinct' then you see a Jets logo and a Nords logo. 'Endangered Species' then you see a Flames logo', Chris explains. The team needed the fanbase to rally to buy enough season tickets to qualify for the NHL currency stabilization assistance plan and to boost club coffers to see it through to the next CBA. At the time it shook Chris, "It was like a cashcall to the fanbase. Having gone through it already once back home it was really tragic to see what was becoming of Canadian top level hockey."
Later rumours started to swirl about GM Craig Button, "who in trying to save his own job, was thinking of trading Iginla to the Sabres for checking center Mike Peca. Anyone remember who cheap shotted Selanne one time? Yes same guy", Chris relives. "I actually got through to Button on a live call-in show. Most fans were disrespectful yet he was gracious. I called in and very politely told him about my Jets background and only seeing a handful of players who gave their all every shift over my lifetime. I recounted players like Thomas Steen. I remember the summary line I told him then, "skills and heart can't be taught, the rest can always be traded for", Chris remembers aloud. In the end of course Team Captain Jarome Iginla stayed on that team after ownership finally let Button fall on his sword. But "it sure taught me how much Iginla meant to the fans as an ambassador to Calgary whereever he goes and how much I missed my Jets", Chris summarizes.
Several return trips for Christmas had Chris "return to the scene of the crime, Winnipeg Arena," with his dad or his buddies to see the 1999 World Juniors and the IHL Manitoba Moose play. "It was my first few times back in the rink since the Jets left. I was excited to see Afinogenov skate circles around the teams in 1999", Chris explains. Summarizing his state of mind at the time, Chris shares, "I was luke-warm happy that the Moose had tried to fill a huge void after the Jets left. I was personally hoping for a WHL or AHL team would come to Winnipeg after the NHL. I never disliked the Moose, Mark Chipman or what either stood for; the best way to describe the feeling back then was like I was like a widower who never wanted to dream about dating again. The atmosphere just wasn't the same. Nor really could it ever be. People treated it like a baseball game. You know you go have drinks talk through the whole game with your buddies, cheer for goals and fights and go home. And then the old barn really started to look old as the older one gets the more decay you tend to notice."
In 2002, Chris moved back to Manitoba, as part of the "ever growing Boomerang club that left for greener pastures and found them back home." Chris explains that he had and has a new appreciation for his city, "we see the benefits, and dwell no longer on the ills."
Photo Courtesy Tourism Winnipeg
Soon after plans were publicly enveiled for a new rink in downtown Winnipeg. Chirs recounts his feelings for it at the time, "I thought that it was 10 years too late, but good for this Mark Chipman fellow for standing up for this city! Then we had the Save The Eaton's debate which was ridiculous. Enough debate: Build it already!!" Chris admits that soon drives detoured to "go past the new hole in the ground just to watch the city's progress."
Chris recounts very early in the construction phase his thoughts, "given the size and the number of luxury boxes could this new rink ever host the NHL again?" But those thoughts were "quickly avoided as the pain of the NHL's departure was just nicely scabing over" Chris explains. To think in those terms, meant that hope also returns. And hope "can be a real cruel thing sometimes", Chris summarizes. The city was a long way off as a group of wealthy Winnipeggers would have to come forward such as "Spirit of Manitoba part two" plus the NHL's Gary Bettman was "outright denying Winnipeg's NHL hopes during an AllStar game interview with the CBC". So for the moment Chris like many put those wishes on hold until November 2004.
The NHL Caliber Rink Finally Arrives
The very first Moose game was part of Chris' first minipack. Chris remembers, "the atmosphere was much better, the team was amped up and the building had my NHL dreams aflutter. The place was soldout and I spent more time looking around the rink than I did watching those games. The city fell in love with the idea of a sports and concert venue again. The events had the place packed it seemed for 3 or 4 nights a week. And the ticket prices didn't seem to be an issue with Winnipeggers! "I started to conclude that people would pay the going rate to support NHL hockey again, especially in such a nice new arena with modern amenities", Chris adds.
White Knights In Plain Sight Only In Hindsight
But then there was the small problem of the NHL's nose-up attitude to all locales about the 49th line. Not to mention that tiny detail of having no deep pocketed owners who not only had to stem any possible losses but also buy a team. Little did Manitobans know at the time that the very land that Eaton's stood was ownerd by the wealthiest man in Canada, top 20 on the planet, who just happens to be partners in True North, a concerts and sports company! "Sure it looks easy to see now but those connected dots were hidden from view with True North having over 40 investors as part of the group", Chris explains.
The Beginning of the Cause
Some Winnipeggers 'Can't Do' attitude, as Chris calls it, "seemed to really drive me crazy. So I started to work out rough numbers to keep NHL teams afloat. Darryl Sutter on a show one time said that Winnipeg would need to match his Flames revenue streams of $80 million to be able to get back into the league. Finally someone in the hockey world laying out exactly what Winnipeg would have to bring in to be back in the big leagues." While reviewing revenue numbers, Chris heard about the MTS Centre hosting an NHL game. Chris exclaims, "This is big! This is their chance to demonstrate our building to NHL bigwigs but also it could be a testdrive of the marketplace's willingness to buy tickets. No this just might be our chance to start the wheels in motion for the NHL's return."
While at the first MTS Centre NHL exhibition game, he received a handout from a volunteer. "It had quotes from respected people indicated Winnipeg's rightful place within the NHL again and the backside had ticket pricing ranges much along the lines of the calculations I had previously ran myself." After visiting Darren Ford's website, Chris later found his webforum along with other followers who at any small tidbit of news to be open to debate and learning just what news stories meant to the cause.
Common Interest Builds Friendship
That forum is how Chris came to meet Phil. Over a few short months, the two men created 22 foot long banners to showcase Darren's Jetsowner.com website for sporting events to attract attention to the cause. "Pony Corral even sponsored them to offset the cost to us", Chris adds.
One of the Many Media Photos on Grand Announcement Day That Caught Internet-Wizard and Rather Camera Shy Phil Bonomo
"Much of the naysaying was being broadcast through media outlets themselves be they national or local. A message had to get out to the general public and media for attitudes about Winnipeg's changing landscape to take root", Chris explains. "Websites require visitors to come to them, which isn't an easy way to get the word out. Soon after we wanted to 'go on the offensive' and reach the hockey media directly", Chris reinforces. Those thoughts were from 5 years ago.
Chris explains the entire plan: "Our push to create a Media Blitz had us collecting the most pertinent summary of facts showcasing Winnipeg's place within the NHL. Originally we were ready to burn 700 DVDs and mail them to each and every hockey writer and each team's PR department. The sheer cost of our ambitious plan set us back to plan B. This was to host all the information on a professional website just as the DVD would have done. Then we would contact each recipient via email with a press release, the website address and our contact information."
ManitobaMythbusters.com Was Born
It so happens that Chris has "a feel for content and presentation yet can't tell if HTML code is upside down or not", while friend and equally passionate NHL fan, Phil Bonomo, can "seemingly create a webpage out of thin air." Chris explains further, "our skills played off of each other and soon, we have many responses from the hockey world. Most were very upbeat, some were very supportive for those media members who are form Winnipeg or spent time here. Very few sent negative or nasty replies but there were a few each year we did this media campaign."
Each year a press release was timed with the annual NHL exhibition game at MTS Centre. Chris explains the full strategy: "Writers, beyond those for the two cities represented at the game, would have a softer spot for Winnipeg's potential return to the NHL and so getting time with the media came fairly easily while the storylines would be most receptive to editors across the country just because of the MTS Centre pre-season game."
Onward and Upward: myNHLincludesWinnipeg.com Was Born
As hundreds of news stories, video and audio files amassed, the website scope grew beyond an analysis of the 12 most common myths which was the foundation of their ManitobaMythbusters site. Chris explains, "We broke ground in several ways by summarizing our analysis on the cities competing with Winnipeg to return and how they are ranked in several different categories. Then we further expanded content behind each of the myths. And we added tools to make using the site easier such as the addition of a key words search. All the while the slow drip of related media stories became a nearly biweekly routine. Managing the addition of such content was a challenge."
Over the course of several more annual press releases the website grew to become the best single source for NHL relocation news on the planet outside the NHL itself.
The Soon-To-Be Legendary Near Miss
May 2010, Chris and Phil learned through various ways including through Jetsowner.com's forum that the Coyotes had ran NHL patience to an end. By a mid month Friday 5pm deadline the City of Glendale was to put up $25 million into escrow to cover team losses for the upcoming year or have the franchise either revoked or relocated. Sources confirmed that True North was ready with the center hung lowered to become a backdrop for a stage with a single podium. Chairs were set. The screen had but one piece of information that was as clear in principle today as it was back then: "13,000". 15 minutes to the deadline and True North had their lawyer ready to hand $170 million over to the NHL for the Ex-Jets. At that final moment, Glendale wilted to the pressure and transfered the cash. "Nobody dared breathe a word of it to the media for fear of killing our NHL dreams", Chris summaizes.
Chris adds, "Our spirits were dashed but to come this far meant our time had finally arrived to return to the NHL. I can't imagine how Mark Chipman and David Thomson took that nailbiting news, but I felt horrible for them and the staff that must have sunk blood sweat and tears to position our city that close." It was made clear by Gary Bettman at June's State of the League Address that Winnipeg was indeed "next in line". "For some of us that message was over a month old", Chris quipped.
Then in September 2010, Chris and Phil's reward came for their efforts. A press release not only received a Winnipeg Free Press full page story on page one of the sports section wrote by Tim Campbell but it became the Winnipeg Free Press headline! See the story here: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/sports/hockey/were-no-fair-weather-hockey-town-better-than-most-103509209.html "I was so happy to finally get the news across", Chris adds.
Screen Image of Tim Campbell's September 22, 2010 Winnipeg Free Press Headline
Because the press release also included the fan support history of the Quebec Nordiques, several spinoff stories throughout Quebec ran which in turn created followup stories as the Canadian hockey media started to see a networking effect for the cause between the two former NHL and WHA cities.
Waiting is The Hardest Part
Chris recounts that waiting became much more difficult as news stories appeared every week, some weeks the topic ran daily, yet none of the May 2010 activities were public knowledge yet. "Then almost predictably, another round of false hope and series of deadlines with the Coyotes came and went. That was old hat now as we knew that the real drop dead date was mid may of each year", Chris adds. "While we were always watching the usual relocation suspects for any news, the Coyotes news dominated while others grew almost silent. Then December 22, 2010 shakes us awake", Chris jokes.
That day the news breaks out of Atlanta that the long impass between owners has been remedied. The legal logjam that is the last remaining roadblock holding back any potential sale of the Thrashers has now seemingly overnight vanished. Previous rumblings in the last six months was that the owners are growing upset losing $130 million since they bought the team from Ted Turner's media empire and have been trying to quietly sell the team for the past 5 years to no avail. "A significant day indeed! Then we see Darren Ford raises his "Jet-o-meter" from 96% to 99% only to back it back down within 10 minutes of the change. (Darren you're never ever going to live that one down my friend!)", being that we know Darren has as good a source as can be had, it was an exciting pre-Christmas gift for us all", Chris recounts.
While news stories became a near constant stream about NHL relocation to Winnipeg or Quebec City, "the real news went quiet from this point on", Chris explains. "We knew that when things were getting close there would be a lock-down on information to all sources while we waitied for the second shoe to drop. Then one of the Thrashers owners looks downtrodden during an TV interview while at his NBA Hawks game. It seems their time has come to get out of the NHL as owners. We were hoping that our time as a city had come as well", Chris summarizes.
May 2011 The Hockey Odyssey
Chris says, "the noise through the media made it difficult to ascertain just what was actually happening with True North and the Coyotes or with the Thrashers. Too many rumours to count were being shared. They gave way to several false alarms."
Grand Announcement Day
Chris explains how the big day unfolds: "May 31, 2011 I wake up to CJOB's Hal Anderson for the words I've been waiting for for 15 years, for the words Winnipeg and Manitoba has been waiting for for 15 years: "True North has called a press conference at the MTS Centre for 11am". No other details necessary!! No more false alarms this is the day."
"Having had months possibly years to get ready for such a day, Phil and I both had "Jets Parachutes" ready and waiting. The car already had a duffle bag full of Jets jerseys, caps, lawn chairs, several forms of beverages and of course our banners. After tying up loose ends at work I took the day off, I picked up Phil and arrived at The Forks for 10:30 am. We had time to yet again wait while CBC's coverage was on the big screen with live crews doing spots throughout the crowd. Funny how waiting didn't seem hard anymore. The crowd was boisterous and clad within Jets gear or colours where they lacked. The whole day had a surreal quality to it."
"I stood out like a sore thumb on purpose that day. I had bought an Atlanta Thrashers jersey years ago and I knew that it would attract media attention for our banner. It didn't realize the number of media who would also want to strike up conversations that day and I couldn't thank Mark Chipman for having the dream and seeing it through 15 years to the finish line."
"Then finally confirmation in my heart and mind that this was indeed the day to remember. The big screen showed a simple still picture of our White Knight from the East, David Thomson, pictured walking acorss the street in front of our airport. The crowd erupted at that news! And settled down soon after for the remaining 20 minutes or so to go."
The still photo that confirmed May 31, 2011 was to be a very special day.
"The next big moment was to see the live press conference where the background had the usual MTS Centre logo and True North logo upon it but now every third logo was the NHL shield crest. That to me was my moment when the NHL arrived home."
"The men walked into the room while the crowd at the Forks sounded like thunder. The press conference proceeded rather slowly through several speakers, Gary Bettman's mere image started jeering chants from the crowd. Finally Mark Chipman took the helm and delivered a great speech that I only partially heard over the din until I Youtube offered me the full version the next day."
Mark Chipman deserves so much more than a key to the city for bringing the NHL home that day.
"We stayed the whole day at the Forks. DJs performed, radio celebrities hosted the crowd along with several Cty of Winnipeg dignitaries including our Mayor Sam Katz doing his much promised Konga Line with former Jets star Thomas Steen, now city councillor right behind the Mayor. Our banner received nation-wide views several times on CBC through the day. I joked with Phil that the banner probably had more viewers today, the day we no longer need it, than it did in almost all the previous days combined."
"Another highlight of that day, that echoes the choice of logo now looking back in hindsight, was a Hercules transport doing several rather tight banks right through downtown Winnipeg and over The Forks marketplace. Any other day and it would be scary to see a military plane come through a city downtown and make such aggressive maneouvers, but that day it was all part of the overwhelming celebration."
Winnipeg NHLs Become Winnipeg Jets
Two days that stand out to Chris beyond May 31, 2011. "Mark Chipman's sly style of unveiling the team name at the draft right before his team makes it's selection was pure energy for the fans that witnessed at the MTS Centre together", summarizes Chris. Again, YouTube offers the entire speech which was almost completed subdued by the crowd's amazing volume for just 4 to 5,000 people there.
Mark Chipman's immortal words at draft day: "on behalf of the Winnipeg Jets"
Logo Love-In Friday July 22, 2010
Reading through the Winnipeg online newspapers Chris found a link to a leaked Jets logo. "That poor quality image looked like pure gold to me", a smiling Chris recalls. It was still several hours before True North confirmed their new identity. Later, Chris would stand in line at the MTS Centre for exactly 4 hours and two minutes to be able to wear his team's new logo. Chris adds, "officially, we were going to Grand Forks, ND the next day, so coming back or waiting the entire weekend wasn't an option. Unofficially that reference to our RCAF is magical for this franchise to associate itself with and to pay tribute our military men and women, and I could not pass up the chance to wear it the very first day it arrived."
And so the journey continues . . .
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