It’s a day few in attendance at the Winnipeg Jets’ last home game 15 years ago would have ever predicted.
But lifelong hockey fan Kelly DeGroot, who attended the final game with her husband and children, said she became convinced the NHL would return five years ago upon meeting Mark Chipman.
“When he spoke of hockey, I knew he’d make it happen,” said DeGroot, a Tory candidate in the upcoming provincial election. “From that moment on, I never doubted the NHL would return for a moment.”
Tuesday’s mood was considerably lighter than it was on April 28, 1996, the date of the Jets’ last game – a 4-1 playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings, who went on that season to capture the Stanley Cup.
“Obviously, it was very sad,” said Jeff Stevenson [of winnipegwhiteout.com], who attended that game. “I was 14. For a long time after, I felt a void.”
Stevenson moved to Calgary years later and told whomever would listen that he wouldn’t consider returning home until Winnipeg had an NHL team.
“My parents just asked me when I’m moving back,” he said from his home in Calgary.
“My goal right now is just to be back in Winnipeg for the home opener this fall, whether it’s inside the arena or out. It’s going to be amazing.”
Brandon-area radio announcer Frank McGwire said his listeners were jubilant about the news. He said he never gave up hope this day would come.
“I never say never,” said McGwire, who attended that last game in 1996. “It’s a great day for this province.”