Thursday, March 10, 2011

My latest thoughts on Phoenix vs. Winnipeg hockey flame war

Normally I don't do opinion pieces here, but I feel I had to make an exception. However, what I wrote below will NOT change how I post about both sides of THIS issue. That is I will continue to do so from an unbiased perspective. Let me get started.

Since the "No, this situation is nothing like Winnipeg, Quebec or Hartford" article was posted on the Five For Howling blog last night, I have seen the predictable. That would be an internet flame war between fans of two separate countries and two separate cities. There are plenty more that have been very understanding and respectful, therefore the troublemakers have been fewer in number than many realize.

My hometown team is the New York Rangers. They are my first love and remain as such. I fell in love with hockey during the second half of my high school years even though the first game I ever watched on television was when I was just 9 years old. By the time I went to college, hockey overtook all other sports and has been far and away #1 ever since.

Back then, the National Hockey League did not readily make available to American viewers games played in Canada, including those memorable ones when Wayne Gretzky played in Edmonton. If you were lucky to have cable television, you'd get to see an occasional game. Otherwise you resorted to game highlights on ESPN. But I did appreciate how much hockey is a religious part of the Canadian way of life. I get it, hockey reigns supreme there. But what some up there don't understand is, just because it is not regarded the same way or at the same level in the United States, it doesn't mean there are not plenty of those who love the NHL at least as much.

That said, I now bring up the debate between the old city and the current one. I remember seeing Winnipeg Jets games on television, especially when the Rangers played them at Winnipeg Arena. They were special to watch, about as much as when they played the other Canadian teams. There is something about seeing those particular games where you appreciate it more than others, perhaps because they are played in another country and see how they celebrate the game. Just look at the TV ads alone and it gives you that impression...

I recall very clearly when the Jets were on the brink of leaving Winnipeg. I hated it. I was going to miss their White Outs, that unique goal horn (which is still played at MTS Centre) and the painting of Queen Elizabeth II hanging from its rafters. During the final game, I knew I'd miss seeing the Jets because of their fan support as well.

However, when I heard the Jets were moving to Phoenix, I was absolutely overjoyed that is where the team was headed. My personal connection to that city is one of the driving reasons why I love the Phoenix Coyotes. I nearly moved to Arizona when I was just 7, but my family's business decided to stay in the New York City area. I love hockey, the NHL and seeing it come to Phoenix was a dream come true. Yes, I wish it wasn't the Jets, but I could not be picky back then. It was a team that called Phoenix home. The Coyotes continued the White Out tradition and it was done out of respect to the Jets years. Some diehard Jets fans will dispute that claim.

So from the beginning dating back to July 1, 1996, I have also been a Phoenix Coyotes fan. I've gone through the ups and downs with the team. When they were doing well, big crowds at US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix. When the Coyotes' fortunes went south, so did the attendance. Obviously due to business reasons, the Coyotes couldn't continue to play downtown and eventually went to nearby Glendale. I was again happy the Coyotes could open a new chapter in club history with a re-branding and new arena. But the wins didn't follow. I grew frustrated like every other Coyotes fan there. Jets fans obviously began to give Arizonans the "I told ya so" where they think people don't support the Coyotes or hockey doesn't work there.

It is bad business decisions, a very poorly run franchise in especially recent years by Jerry Moyes, the lack of marketing and especially poor on-ice performance is what has pushed the Coyotes to where they are today... on the brink of either being saved or complete collapse where they have to move again. Since Moyes made his disgraceful move to put the team into Chapter 11 bankruptcy AND the Jim Ballisie debacle, Jets fans as well as Canadian fans in general PLUS their print and broadcast media have done their part to campaign for the Coyotes to move back north, that including Winnipeg. So we are where we are.

Even before the Coyotes were facing the threat of relocation, I have supported Winnipeg in seeing the NHL return there. I have followed the Return of the Jets Campaign run by Darren Ford. While Phoenix fans don't think kindly of him, I do appreciate his efforts and hope his dream becomes a reality. But there is one thing I don't want. NOT AT THE COYOTES EXPENSE. My next dream would be one day we see both Phoenix and Winnipeg with teams and even develop a healthy rivalry, similar to the one between the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild... the "old team vs. new team" thing. I feel like lately I have had to be a peacemaker between those that salivate at a Jets return and those vehemently wanting the Coyotes to stay in Phoenix. Without any shred of doubt, I support the Coyotes staying FIRST and won't ever change.

So for a final note, I say to the Canadian media, its talking heads, SOME Canadian fans and the minority of Winnipeg hockey fans need to back the hell off. You are ruining the reputation of the good people from there. Stop with the onslaught of slander toward Phoenix, Glendale and the state of Arizona. Your support of The Goldwater Institute exists for only one reason, for them to kill the Coyotes sale to Matthew Hulsizer and in turn move the team back to Winnipeg. We see this with the "Support the Goldwater Institute, bring home the Jets!" Facebook group. That MINORITY gives Winnipeg, the province of Manitoba and the rest of Canada a bad name. We appreciate your love for the NHL and wanting it to return to your city. BUT don't troll the Phoenix Coyotes' Facebook page, the Arizona Republic web site and any other internet site that covers THIS hockey team. It makes Arizona-based hockey fans and others like me who live elsewhere even more determined to see this team stay AND not see you get what you want. Stay patient and leave Phoenix fans alone. That includes you Gary Lawless, David Shoalts, Damien Cox, Howard Bloom and a number of others from a media standpoint. The fans? You too. You want the NHL to come back? Stay patient and stop the maddening venom you spew at Phoenix. It makes you deserve a team that much less. Save yourselves from a worsening reputation and back off if you know what's best for ALL of us fans. That way, there is no bloodbath in the years to come with or without NHL teams in BOTH cities.

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