There were many fans across the province of Manitoba with their eyes tuned into Tuesday’s press conference which announced the NHL returning to the city of Winnipeg, pending a vote of approval by the NHL board of governors, which will take place later in June.
One of them was Flyers assistant coach Kevin McCarthy, who was born, raised and played his junior hockey in that very town.
“I grew up watching the World Hockey Association’s Winnipeg Jets with Bobby Hull,” said McCarthy. “I remember growing up and watching the Jets win the Avco Cup, which was the equivalent of the Stanley Cup in the WHA, so I was able to go and watch some games as a kid.
|Teemu Selanne played for the Winnipeg Jets from 1992-93 to 1995-96. |
“The one thing about the fans in Winnipeg is that they’re very passionate about the game of hockey. But Winnipeg is kind of unique in the way that they fall in love with the team, they fall in love with the players and the players going there are going to find out that it’s a special place to play.”
The nickname for the team to play out of the MTS Centre in Winnipeg has yet to be announced.
Among the many fans were McCarthy’s family, which include his mother, two sisters, a brother and his wife’s entire family who are Manitoba natives.
“I think that the fans there have been waiting for a long time. I know that just from my own family, their reaction is that they’re pretty pumped up and excited. Obviously it’s a great time for the people of Manitoba, especially Winnipeg.”
McCarthy played four seasons of junior hockey in Winnipeg from 1973-77 before being selected by the Flyers in the first round (17th overall) of the NHL Entry Draft in 1977.
“For me especially, it’s where I grew up and you always have that special bond there. I got the opportunity as a kid to play in a World Junior Tournament in Winnipeg Arena. I remember how the fans reacted to that. It’s a special place to play and when you lose something like that and then you get it back, it makes [the people] there that much more grateful that they’re going to be able to go watch a hockey game, especially at the NHL level.”PADDOCK RECALLS COACHING WINNIPEG
Flyers assistant general manager John Paddock very much remembers the last time NHL hockey was played in Winnipeg. After all he was behind the bench for it.
“I think it will be a city that will more than hold its own. It’s exciting for the city, province and even the country of Canada,” said Paddock. “They’re passionate and [as a team member] you’re recognized everywhere you go.”
Paddock spent over three seasons as the Winnipeg Jets’ head coach, most of it during the final four seasons prior to the club relocating to Phoenix.
“The playoff crowds were very special,” said Paddock. “They were sold out. Teemu Selanne’s rookie year created a tremendous buzz and excitement that the market never had before with following it on a national level with [Mike] Bossy’s record.”REESE RECALLS FIRST GAME
Another member of the Flyers coaching staff has a special place in his heart and memory of the City of Winnipeg.
Flyers goaltending coach Jeff Reese appeared in his first NHL game against the Winnipeg Jets as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 10, 1988.
“I know it was a long time ago but I do remember we lost 4-3,” said Reese. “Dale Hawerchuk scored on a breakaway with about 7–8 minutes left in the game. It was a heart-breaker for me. But it was fun and something that I will always remember.”
Having played there a few more times throughout his career, Reese also remembers that the fans are what made Winnipeg Arena that much more special.
“The crowd support was awesome. I also played a few years in Calgary so we were in there all the time. The crowds were very supportive and I am sure they are very excited in Winnipeg right now to get a team back there. They deserve to have a team back there.”