Toronto is the centre of the financial and media universe in this country, but professional sports has been a different story for a very long time. This past Wednesday saw two announcements that may alter the future, but please don’t hold your breath.
The once mighty Maple Leafs, who have now disappointed more than two generations of hockey fans, backed up the money truck and anointed a guy from Saskatoon to guide them to the promised land. Coach Mike Babcock has an eight-year deal worth $50 million. No one has ever been paid that much to direct a quest for the Stanley Cup.
The Stanley Cup playoffs, which had not involved Winnipeg since 1996, have now come and gone from River City. The Jets lost four in a row to the Anaheim Ducks. It was a disappointment for sure, but not entirely surprising.
It reminded me a little of the 1980 playoffs when a young Oilers team battled hard but couldn’t get by the powerful Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. It was the first playoff action for 19-year-old Wayne Gretzky, who is now a 54-year-old grandfather — is that possible?
WINNIPEG — Winnipeg’s playoff dreams were dashed with a swift swipe of the broom as the Anaheim Ducks swept the Jets in four straight games with a 5-2 win in front of the ever-enthusiastic 15,016 at MTS Centre Wednesday night.
The franchise — including the 12 years when they were known as the Atlanta Thrashers — has never won a Stanley Cup Playoff game despite two separate appearances. Back in 2007, while holding the third seed in the Eastern Conference, the Thrashers were knocked out in four-straight at the hands of the New York Rangers.
Year four in the Manitoba capital and the Jets finally edged their way into the post-season by capturing the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot, pairing them up in the first round with the West’s best regular season club.
WINNIPEG — The Anaheim Ducks made it three straight comeback wins Monday night, breaking hearts across Winnipeg with a 5-4 overtime win. The loss spells disaster for the Winnipeg Jets, as they now trail their first round series 3-0. The Ducks will look to move on to the second round on Wednesday at MTS Centre.
That MTS Centre, by the way, was impossibly raucous as 15,016 fans celebrated the first playoff game in Winnipeg since 1996. They helped their team get out of the gate strong, with sustained zone time and an opening goal.
“That’s as good a building as I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “We had the jump, the legs because of it… and we needed it, we used it to full effect.”
“It was an unbelievable experience in the building,” said Lee Stempniak, who opened the scoring for the Jets halfway through the first. “I personally haven’t had anything like that before and we certainly played off the energy.”
WINNIPEG — Call Saturday’s game at MTS Centre a victory lap.
With a Stanley Cup Playoff spot safely secured and nothing to be lost or gained in their regular season finalé, the Winnipeg Jets rested several veterans and dressed a skeleton crew for their 5-1 victory over the Calgary Flames.
With the likes of Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Mark Stuart, and Ondrej Pavelec among others getting the day off, it allowed the club’s black aces to play and rookies Connor Hellebuyck and Andrew Copp to dress for their first NHL games.
What is the most difficult championship to win in professional sports? Without question, it has to be the Stanley Cup in hockey. Thirty teams scattered across two countries slug it out for 82 games in the regular season. Then 16 of them keep going in the playoffs. The winner must endure four best-of-seven series. That’s a potential of 28 more games, finishing just before the football season begins in Canada.
As Canadians, we used to proudly declare that hockey was ‘our game.’ In the glory days of the original six, well over 90% of the players were Canadian, and the Leafs and the Habs took the trophy home more than anyone else. Montreal was the last Canadian team to win it all, back in 1993. And Toronto? Don’t even go there.
WINNIPEG — After a long 19-year wait, Winnipeg Jets fans are gearing up for a trademark “whiteout.”
Playoff hockey is set to return to the city for the first time since 1996, and fans greeted the news by pouring into the streets, flying Jets flags, and snapping up jerseys and other white-coloured gear.
“My wife told me ‘get down there, get (T-shirts) for the family,”’ said Eric Troniak, one of several dozen people who lined up early outside the NHL team’s official store at MTS Centre. He snagged five white T-shirts within minutes of the store’s opening Friday, and navigated through crowded aisles to get to the cash register.