By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Craig Heisinger is one of the few links between the past and present versions of the Winnipeg Jets.
Heisinger was an equipment manager for the Jets from 1988 until the team left the city for Phoenix in 1996. He’s now assistant general manager, senior vice-president and director of hockey operations for the current Jets battling the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL’s Western Conference final.
“I’m probably the single conduit between 1.0 and 2.0,” Heisinger told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from Winnipeg.
While his city is gripped by a Jets team that’s gone further in the post-season than any before, Heisinger is preoccupied trying to ensure Winnipeg can sustain that success into future seasons.
The 55-year-old ran amateur scouting meetings this week in Winnipeg.
“People may wonder why I’m still in Winnipeg when the team is in Vegas,” he said. “Your hockey team doesn’t improve by watching your own hockey team.
“Sometimes the business of hockey doesn’t allow you to be in the building to support it.”
Heisinger didn’t give moving with the Jets to the desert much consideration at all in 1996.
“When I told people I wasn’t going, they looked at me like I had nine heads,” he recalled.
But he and his wife Vickie had four young sons at the time — three in diapers — and just because the Jets were gone didn’t mean his hometown was devoid of hockey.
“There was going to be hockey in Winnipeg. I was a hockey person,” he said.
Heisinger is proud of his involvement with the Manitoba Moose, which was Winnipeg’s only pro team for the decade and a half before the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg in 2011.
“If you were an NHL fan, there was a void. If you were a hockey fan, there was no void for 15 years,” Heisinger said. “And without the Moose for 15 years, there’s no return of the Jets 2.0, not even close.”
It was with the Moose that Heisinger transitioned from equipment manager to hockey executive.
Jet 2.0 immediately gave him his current titles, but he’s also remained GM of the Moose, which is the American Hockey League affiliate of the Jets.
“The one thing that happened by staying is I wound up changing jobs,” Heisinger said. “I like my job now, but I loved my job before. I loved being an equipment guy.”
Since his job requires him to look well beyond the Jets’ current playoff run, he feels insulated from the hype while he’s at the office.
But Heisinger says more people want to talk hockey with him in the grocery store these days. And the excitement has trickled into his home.
“I have a hockey family. Most of my kids are involved in it,” he said. “I see a level of excitement from them that I haven’t seen in the past.”
Heisinger says he’s also been hearing from Jets 1.0 players such as Kris King, Dave Ellett, Dale Hawerchuk, Laurie Boschman and Eddie Olczyk, who are watching the current edition with interest.
“There was a lot of really good teams in Jets 1.0,” Heisinger said. “There was a team in Alberta, the Edmonton Oilers, that were a bit of a road block, year after year after year.”
“There was certainly some really good teams in Winnipeg in those days that couldn’t get by one of the most iconic teams in hockey history.”