The best single bit about the return of the NHL to my hometown was said by Dave Bidini:
Winnipeggers are sad and beautiful. So is their city, and so, once, was their hockey team.
For me, it’s sad to be losing that bit of hockey-related sadness. Having an NHL team and having lost it is a fundamental part of the Winnipeg story to me.
The descriptions of Winnipeggers as “hockey-mad” in a bunch of these stories makes me laugh. Winnipeggers are nostalgia-mad. I think I’m like a lot of people, attached to the idea of the lost team, not to hockey itself. We’ve got this idealized version of the team that left, like some long lost father, but whatever the Thrashers get called, they aren’t going to be that ideal. I wonder how long nostalgia will keep people coming to the arena.
One of my Winnipeg-born friends referred to himself this week as “an orphaned, nomadic hockey fan” who was glad the Jets were returning. I don’t know that it’s worth the price. I’m not even talking about corporate money going into box seats instead of the Jazz Festival. I mean the loss of our tragic orphan-nomad hockey fan story.
The loss of the Jets is a story of greed and complacency and mass demonstrations. There’s a villain whose name you can curse. If you were there when the Jets were, you had memories that were valuable because they weren’t making any more. The team logo becomes a part of the language of the city, a tragic futile metaphor. Now that they’re coming back, Winnipeggers are from just another small-market NHL city with a team that’ll get knocked out of the first round of the playoffs if they make it that far. The story gets lessened by no longer being tragic. It’s your long-lost father showing up as a beer-swilling know-nothing loudmouth who’s done nothing with his life, spoiling every story you’d made up about him.
I left the Peg, so maybe I should shut up. Maybe it’ll all be awesome. Maybe fans’ll show they actually loved hockey and not the idea of their own martyrdom. Maybe the story will build to the new Jets becoming amazing and hoisting a Stanley Cup sooner than 40 years from now. But then it’s just a sports story. And one that’s not so sad and beautiful.box seats dave bidini hockey idealization jazz fest jets logo memory nhl nomad nostalgia orphan small market stanley cup story the guess who thrashers tragedy