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Jets owners enjoy unforgettable day in Winnipeg

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com
WINNIPEG -- Chalk one up for the city of Winnipeg and those fans who have certainly made a strong believer out of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
 
Prior to the first hockey game played in the city in 16 years, the Commissioner and Winnipeg Jets co-owner Mark Chipman took some time to speak with the media regarding the return of hockey to the province of Manitoba.
 
"It's exciting to be in Winnipeg and on behalf of the National Hockey League we're thrilled to be here," Bettman said. "This is obviously a terrific day for the city, the entire country of Canada and NHL and it's a tribute to (owners) Mark Chipman and David Thomson for their perseverance, persistence and the way they've conducted themselves.
 

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"True North Sports has been an absolute delight to deal with and they've had a lot to accomplish in a very short period of time … they've done it extremely well. The reception by the fans and overall community has been nothing short of sensational and we couldn't be more pleased."
 
Chipman, the head of True North Sports and Entertainment, purchased the Atlanta Thrashers for $180 million back on May 31. The dream of one day seeing professional hockey return here is something he, quite frankly, didn't think possible. But it has happened and Chipman certainly exhibited an anxious anticipation while at the podium prior to puck drop.
 
"(For the fans), it's obviously an outpouring of emotion that's probably been many years coming," Chipman said. "It's really difficult to describe how I'm actually feeling; there's a number of emotions really but I'm grateful for sure."
 
Chipman did admit plenty of butterflies an hour-and-a-half before the opening faceoff.
 
"I'm always nervous before game time," he said. "That's the emotion I'm feeling right now. Home openers are hard to plan, they are tough games. I'm just hoping the guys get off to a good start."
 
Will he shed a tear?
 
"I probably will," Chipman admitted. "You're going to see a tribute to Rick Rypien and that's going to be hard to get through for sure. His passing leaves a big hole in our organization. It will be emotional for sure and there's going to be a lot of other emotions as well."
 
Rypien was inked to a one-year contract last July but died just before the start of training camp on Aug. 15.
 
When asked how he spent his morning, Chipman grinned.
 
"Oh, I had my regular lunch with the (Canadian) Prime Minister and Ambassador," he said, tongue in cheek. "It certainly wasn't my regular lunch crew, but it was very humbling to be in that company. It's a game day so I try to get to the rink early. I like being around our group, I like being around our coaching staff on game days, so I got here early and am just soaking it up really."
 
On June 4, the team sold 13,000 season tickets in a matter of minutes after being made available to the general public. Following an advance sale to patrons of the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose -- a reward for supporting the team during its years outside the NHL -- there were about 6,000 left for public consumption and they were gobbled in 17 minutes at an average ticket price of $82.
 
"It's really difficult to describe how I'm actually feeling; there's a number of emotions really but I'm grateful for sure." -- Mark Chipman, head of True North Sports and Entertainment
Rumor is the online queue for ticket purchases was full in two minutes. The team has sold out for at least the next three seasons, in fact, and 8,000 more paid a $50 non-refundable deposit to get on the waiting list for tickets.
 
Not too bad a start for the Jets 2.0.
 
"I'm completely confident (in the future of the Jets)," Bettman said. "We have no reason to believe anything other than this team will be a huge success for the foreseeable future. It is being well supported and is owned by people committed who have the resources to back it up. This is all good."
 
There's no question Winnipeg's managerial staff has every intention of having their team become part of the very fabric that makes up this charming city. That was evident on the eve of their season opener when Jets vice president and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was seen at a local eatery schmoozing with the locals and posing for pictures upon request. And, yes, Cheveldayoff was recognized by everyone -- no one with ties to the NHL will go unnoticed to Manitobans.
 
Chipman also credited the Commissioner for helping make certain the Montreal Canadiens helped open up the MTS Centre.
 
"I have to thank the Commissioner for that … when the schedule came out and I saw the home opener against the Canadiens, we were thrilled and couldn't imagine a better team to play against," Chipman said. "Bringing in Montreal, one of the most important franchises in the history of this League was a great gesture by the Commissioner."
 
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale
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