Len Kropioski, a longtime Winnipeg Jets fan and fixture at MTS Centre famous for his salute after the singing of the Canadian national anthem, died Tuesday. He was 98.
Kropioski, known as "Kroppy" to Jets fans, was so well-known within the Jets organization that captain Blake Wheeler posted his condolences on Twitter.
Born in Winnipeg, Kropioski lived most recently in Kenora, Ontario. From there, he would make the 2 1/2-hour drive to every home game, where he sat in the first row at MTS Centre, unless his health wouldn't allow it. The veteran of World War II was featured on the video board at the end of the Canadian national anthem at almost every game, giving a salute and a thumbs-up after the playing of "O Canada."
Kropioski's love for the Jets dates to the early 1970s, when the original Jets were part of the new World Hockey Association. The Jets entered the NHL in 1979, and he remained a loyal fan until the franchise moved to Arizona in 1996. Kropioski then became a season-ticket holder with the Manitoba Moose, now the Jets' American Hockey League affiliate, and remained one with the second iteration of the Jets after the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg in 2011.
"True North Sports + Entertainment and the Winnipeg Jets were greatly saddened when we learned yesterday afternoon of Len Kropioski's passing," the Jets said in a statement released Wednesday. "'Kroppy' was the consummate hockey fan, and his support of the team and the organization has always been genuine and pure, dating back to our time in the American Hockey League. His devotion to make the two-hour trip from Kenora to always ensure he was in his front-row seat in time for the anthems demonstrated how passionate Winnipeg Jets fans can be."
The Jets said they will honor Kropioski prior to their regular-season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 13.
"Kroppy had a tremendous impact on the organization, particularly those who interacted with him and came to know his family well. He will be missed. We will now work to determine a proper way to honor and remember his unwavering support when we open the regular season on Oct. 13 vs. the Carolina Hurricanes. We would imagine his family is touched by the incredible demonstration of love exhibited by the Winnipeg Jets community in the past 24 hours. They had asked us for privacy to this point and we now ask the same for his family going forward. Thank you."