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NHL Returns to Winnipeg After 15 Years

May 31, 2011 11:42 AM | Sports

Fans cheer in the courtyard of 201 Portage Avenue as they watch the announcement being made that the NHL is returning to Winnipeg on Tuesday, May 31, 2011. (MAURICE BRUNEAU / CHRISD.CA)

Fans play a game of street hockey in the parking lot of The Forks Tuesday morning. (MARC EVANS / CHRISD.CA)

After 15 years of waiting, the NHL is returning to Winnipeg. And this time, it’s official.

True North Sports and Entertainment, along with officials with the NHL, made the announcement Tuesday morning to relocate the Atlanta Thrashers to Manitoba in a $170 million deal.

“It’s nice to be back in Winnipeg after all these years,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

The complex deal wasn’t yet complete by 3:30 a.m. CT. Bettman said he was on a conference call at that time and negotiations were still ongoing.

Seating chart and ticket prices for the new NHL team in Winnipeg. (DRIVETO13.COM)

The sale of the Thrashers will still need approval from 75 percent of the NHL’s Board of Governors on June 21.

True North launched details of a “Drive to 13,000” campaign, meant to secure 13,000 season tickets and fill seats inside MTS Centre.

Bettman says the building will need to be packed every game for the franchise to work in Winnipeg.

Fans with Manitoba Moose season tickets will get the first crack at presale tickets on Wednesday, June 1 at 1 p.m. until Friday, June 3 at 10 p.m.

General season tickets will go on sale at noon on Saturday, June 4. A minimum commitment of three years will be needed, with prices ranging from $1,755 to $5,785. Single game tickets will be available from $39 to $129.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and True North Chairman Mark Chipman attend a news conference to announce the return of the NHL to Winnipeg at MTS Centre on Tuesday, May 31, 2011. (JAMES TURNER / METRO NEWS)

The website Driveto13.com will accommodate the sale of tickets, which will be handled through Ticketmaster.

What happens if 13,000 tickets aren’t sold? Bettman appeared confident when the question was posed to him, but said he doesn’t want to speculate.

Owners of the team haven’t yet selected a name, but Bettman said if they wanted to use ‘Winnipeg Jets,’ he wouldn’t object to it.

Fans were encouraged to celebrate at The Forks, but that didn’t stop a hockey game breaking out at Portage and Main shortly after the announcement began at 11 a.m. As police closed down the famous intersection to vehicles, people from surrounding office buildings began joining in on the celebrations. Everyone from business-types in suits, to die-hard fans with their faces painted, it was a joyous mood that swept over the streets of Winnipeg.

By about 1 p.m., traffic was flowing again at Portage and Main, as revelers moved over to The Forks to join the thousands of people who had already there as early as 9 a.m. in anticipation of the big news. Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz made good on his promise to lead the conga line, and began dancing with city councillor and former Winnipeg Jet Thomas Steen holding onto his shoulders.

The celebrations will go well into the evening, with a slew of performers scheduled to take the stage under the canopy at The Forks.

View the photo gallery below.