Winnipeg’s National Hockey League franchise, which relocated from Atlanta, will be called the Jets after the team that spent 24 years in the Manitoba capital.
The name was revealed last night during the first round of the NHL Draft in St. Paul, Minnesota, right before the team selected center Mark Scheifele with the No. 7 pick. The team also announced Claude Noel as its first coach yesterday in a news conference.
“We did think about it long and hard, it was not an easy decision to make,” Mark Chipman, chairman of Winnipeg-based True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd., which bought the team, said in a television interview. “There is so much history and heritage behind the name.”
Earlier this week, the league’s board of governors voted in New York to approve the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers to True North. The Jets will play in Winnipeg starting with the 2011-12 season.
An online petition calling for the team to regain the Jets nickname gathered more than 13,600 signatures.
“Based on the reception that we’ve gotten, everybody is extremely excited about the opportunities in Winnipeg,” league Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a news conference following the league’s approval of the sale.
The Jets played in the NHL from 1979-1996, recording 506 wins, 660 losses and 172 ties. In that span the team qualified for the playoffs 11 times, never making it to the Stanley Cup Final. The Jets qualified for seven straight playoffs from 1982-88 with a nucleus of players including Hall of Fame center Dale Hawerchuk, and defensemen Dave Babych and Randy Carlyle, now the coach of the Anaheim Ducks.
World Hockey Association
In seven World Hockey Association seasons before joining the NHL, the Jets and Hall of Fame forward Bobby Hull, nicknamed “the Golden Jet,” made six playoff appearances and won three league titles. The city lost the first incarnation of the Jets when the franchise moved to Arizona in 1996 and became the Phoenix Coyotes.
“We get to be back in a place we wish we hadn’t left in 1996,” Bettman said May 31 at a news conference in Winnipeg following the announcement of the sale.
Season tickets for the Jets went on sale to the public on June 4. The team’s 13,000 season tickets were sold to existing minor-league patrons and new buyers within 72 hours, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. The waiting list was capped at 8,000 soon after that.
Smallest NHL Arena
The 15,000-seat MTS Centre, the future home of the franchise and smallest NHL arena by capacity, will retain its name after MTS Allstream Inc., a local telecommunications company, and True North announced an extension of their sponsorship agreement. Financial details of the 10-year extension, announced on the arena’s website, weren’t released.
True North is headed by David Thomson, chairman of financial news and information provider Thomson Reuters Corp. Thomson was ranked 24th on Forbes magazine’s 2009 list of the world’s richest people, with an estimated net worth of $13 billion.
Bettman has declined to comment on the financial details of the sale, which was announced last month. The Hockey News reported on May 20 that the price would be $110 million, with the NHL receiving at least another $60 million as part of a relocation fee.
Other suggestions for the team’s name included the Manitoba Falcons, in honor of the Winnipeg Falcons, who won Canada’s first Olympic hockey gold medal in 1920. The Jets will be the NHL’s seventh Canadian team, joining the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators.
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-- Editor: Rob Gloster, Nancy Kercheval.