***This story was originally published on Jul. 13, 2016***
In a beautifully told compilation of great Canadians and their stories of “triumph, tragedy and unwavering patriotism,” MacLean’s Magazine recently featured one of the biggest Jets fans
of all time
Len Kropioski, or ‘Kroppy’ as he’s more commonly known, has been coming to Jets games for more than 35 years, initially becoming a season ticket holder with the WHA incarnation way back in
1979, and just recently signing on for another five years with the current squad.
If you’ve been to a game live or have heard the unmistakable ovation on television, you know what Kroppy means to his fellow fans and to the Jets organization. At 7:05 each and every game night, he's there, singing along, saluting the flag and pitching a powerful thumbs-up to the fans in a
suave ensemble of military and home team garb, all to the tune of the Canadian national
The phenomenon began back in 2011 when the Jets played their first home game after relocating from Atlanta. Just minutes before puck drop on an increasingly historic night in Winnipeg, a new tradition was born.
“Our camera guys, as they do, are looking for emotion during the anthem,” said Kyle Balharry, the Jets’ director of game production. “Our camera guy scanned the crowd and landed on this man – this incredibly passionate man, that the only thing important to him at that moment was the pride of signing the national anthem and what that meant to him. … The love of his country and love
for his fellow Canadians just exudes from him.”
Balharry has been with True North for more than 15 years and has produced all the Jets and old Moose games at MTS Centre, but says in his experience – while difficult to compare – nothing
has ever become so popular, so quick.
What began as an organic, feel-good moment quickly grew into something more.
“There was an enormous cheer from the crowd when we first did it, because it just fit the moment so perfectly, so we said, ‘Let’s try it again in Game 2’ and it only got bigger, and bigger, and bigger,” Balharry said.
“It became part of our tradition. It became part of who we are.”
Kroppy now lives in Kenora but over the last five years, has driven in for almost every game until his health took a turn mid-winter last year. Before long there was an absent seat in Section 104; but Kroppy, too ill to attend games at that point, promised a comeback.
In Kroppy’s absence, Balharry still wanted honour the WWII vet, who, as a fixture of the MTS Centre experience over the last five years, was dearly missed, game over game. Over the next month and a half, as anthem singer Stacey Nattrass belted out the final few bars of O Canada, Kroppy’s image appeared on the scoreboard in a pre-recorded video, saluting the flag with a bright, wide smile,
Well enough to once again to brave the five-hour drive round trip from his home in Ontario, Kroppy returned the rink in late March – a night many will not soon forget, the building gushing in cheer.
“I was so happy for Kroppy that he got to feel that from the fans, and I was so happy for the fans to have a chance to give back to this gentleman who’s been an icon since the team has come back,” Balharry said. “It was a chance for everyone to thank him for not only being an incredibly
loyal Jets fan, but for all the service he’s done for our country over the years.”
After the anthem, which was, in itself, a stirring reminder of just how beloved he is, Kroppy was then the focus of an in-game promotion where two fans go head-to-head in a battle for applause, with
just one factor – volume – determining a winner.
There was no other competitor on this night, though.
Just one amazing man, his team and the support of a city behind him, for that’s who Winnipeggers – those great Canadians with unwavering patriotism – are.
“People were crying, people were cheering… It just all culminated in one of the most special moments I think any of us have ever been a part of.”
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com
To read more of MacLean's 'Canada's Stories' project, click here.