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Cold reality in Winnipeg

By George Johnson - Calgary Sun
Apr 6, 1996

WINNIPEG --Rick Tabaracci wants to remember it in the proper way.
"I hear the snow banks are seven feet high there now," says the Flames goaltender. "Perfect. And I hope by the time we get in it's minus 22, with that north wind howling down Portage and Main.
"Otherwise it wouldn't seem like Winnipeg, would it?"
Record lows, record snows. It's been a brutal, bleak winter, even by Winnipeg standards. But it's the next one they're dreading here. And the one after that. And ...
Winnipeg ... without the Jets?
Might as well confiscate all the booster cables in town.
'What people don't appreciate is the fact that this team isn't just moving the street," says Flame captain Theoren Fleury, who grew up in Russell. "They're not just moving into a new building. They're moving!
"And they're never coming back."
It certainly doesn't possess the reverent air of church that pervaded the Forum. Or the nostalgic squalor of Boston Garden. Or the ear-splitting, beer-swilling brazenness of the old Chicago Stadium.
But the Winnipeg Arena has its history.
Bobby Hull slapshots. Anders Hedberg overdrive. A couple of Avco Cups. Fergy's door-cracking press box tantrums. Thomas Steen's courage. Selanne's smile. It's all going, soon to be shunted up into the NHL's cluttered attic crammed with relies from the discard bin.
In Winnipeg, they didn't just auction off the seats. They au'ctioned off the team.
Tonight, yet another stop on the NHL farewell tour for the Calgary Flames. Next season, the Jets will be the Coyotes, just another reason to flee the dry, stifling heat of Arizona, lost among the cactus and sagebrush and limitless trailer parks of Phoenix.
"I think that's sad," says Dean Evason. "I was a Manitoba kid. And I know what having the Jets in Winnipeg meant to me.
"The kids that live all over that province now won't have that. And, reality or not, that's sad."
To those who know, those who understand, it most certainly is. But no tears will be shed, other then self-serving or hypocritical, outside the perimeter highway that rings this city.
"For a few of us, the guys who lived around there or played for the Jets," says Fleury, "it's going to be a sad night."
"The rest of the guys, I suppose, will be executingf cartwheels and backflips."
No, this was never one of the league's most eagerly anticipated stops. During his days as a Flame, Sergei Makarov once squinted out the window of a commercial flight beginning it's descent into Winnipeg, scanning the limitless carpet of white below.
"Is...," he stammered in a state of agitation. "Is... like Moscow!"
But those who dropped in here for a one-game pitstop on the road, who see it only as a barren, backward spot on the prairies aren't looking hard enough.
James Patrick is a Winnipeg boy. Trevor Kidd hails from Dugald, Sheldon Kennedy from Elkhorn, Evason from Flin Flon.
Tabaracci spent parts of three seasons in Jet regalia. Kennedy took a turn there, too.
"It's a great city," says Tabaracci. "I thought I was going back there last year, before the Flames made the deal to get me from Washington. And it'd have been ok by me."
Patrick very nearly signed with the Jets in the off-season, setting up a homecoming ending.
"After (tonight), I won't be playing in that building again until I'm ready for oldtimers hockey," he muses. "What will I remember most? The yellow paint on the walls and that picture of the Queen."
Ah yes, the infamous portrait that, if seen by royal eyes, would be banned by Palace decree.
"Actually," jokes Fleury. "I think she looks kinda sexy up there. In a cross-eyed sort of way."
At 15, Fleury moved down from Russell to play for the St. James Canadian Junior B team. And he practised with the Western League Winnipeg Warriors, loitering around the Arena afterwards to sneak into Jets games free.
Fleury remembers the drive in from Russell as a kid to see his first NHL game live, Jets vs Colorado Rockies. After the game, Lanny McDonald signed an autograph for him.
"Who would've thought that 11 years later I'd be sipping champagne out of the Stanley Cup with the guy," he reflects softly.
Born in the mining community of Flin Flon, Evason spent six years in Winnipeg.
"I was at that game Bobby Hull had his hairpiece ripped off! " he laughs. "No seriously. There was this scrum and the tough guy on the other team -- can't remember his name -- reached around and got a fist full of Hull's hair. Yanked it right off the Golden Jet's head!
"I swear. He came out the next period wearing a Jofa helmet, the kind Sternie uses."
Kidd, too, grew up a Jet fan, got interested just about the time a fella named Hawerchuk was drafted out of Cornwall. Kidd went to school in Oak Bank, Man. The family phone number was listed in Lockport. And all the mail got delivered to Dugald.
"Can't get much more rural Manitoba than that, can you" he laughs.
The outdated house on Maroons Road will likely have a hockey team next year. But it will be minor league, in a proud city that yearns to be major league.
After the Flames practised at the 'Dome prior to a late afternoon night here yesterday, Tabaracci was informed that, yes, the snow was seven feet deep. But, apparently, the wind had died down and the temperature was a mild -5 C.
Not at all how he'd envisioned his final trip into Winterpeg.
"I remember two solid weeks of minus 30, with the wind chill taking it down to minus 60," he says. "I had a new car. I plugged it in. It still wouldn't start.
"Those people know about cold."
And, now forever more, about being left out in the cold.

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