Thursday, October 13, 2011

Yes, they're back . . .

If you’re a hockey fan, chances are you were in front of a TV set on Sunday and watched at least part of the game from the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.
This was the regular-season return of the Jets to Winnipeg and not even a 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens could ruin the atmosphere.
And if you’re a hockey fan chances are pretty good that you really will enjoy Back in the Bigs, a book loaded with photos and the story of the Jets as written by Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press.
Turner and the photographs tell the story of the Jets, going all the way back to the days of Ben Hatskin — was he, you know, connected? — and the Junior Jets.
Turner tells the complete story, too.
When you think of the Winnipeg Jets, chances are you think immediately of the big line — Ulf Nilsson between Bobby Hull and Anders Hedberg — or maybe Dale Hawerchuk.
It’s true that time and distance make the heart grow fonder, so you may have forgotten that despite the presence of the likes of the four aforementioned players, the Jets never were a rip-roaring success in Winnipeg.
Oh, the fans loved the Jets the day it all ended — the Detroit Red Wings beat the host Jets 4-1 in a playoff game on April 28, 1996. The Winnipeg franchise was then relocated to Phoenix.
But travel back in time with Turner and read about how the Jets, featuring Hull, Hedberg and Nilsson, rarely sold out the Winnipeg Arena when they played in the now-defunct World Hockey Association.
And things didn’t get much better when the NHL ended the war between the leagues by begrudgingly accepting four teams, including the Jets.
Turner touches on all of that and, by the time Winnipeg is gearing up to welcome back the second-coming of its Jets, you are wondering how a team that struggled for acceptance as a WHA team and later as an NHL entry can make a go of it this time around?
More than anything, though, there are great hockey stories in this book. Stories of how Hatskin landed Hull and how Hedberg and Nilsson came to play in Winnipeg, even though neither player had even visited North America. Remember, too, that the Jets had more Europeans on their roster than just those two skaters.
There is lots here, too, on the fiery John Ferguson, who during his stint as general manager was the face of the Jets.
Turner also delves into Winnipeg’s lengthy stay in the American Hockey League — its franchise was the Manitoba Moose, an affiliate of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. If you are wondering how it is that Craig Heisinger, a former trainer with the Brandon Wheat Kings, moved from the Moose, where he started as the trainer, to the Jets, where he now is director of player operations, you need only read about his going nose-to-nose with Brian Burke, then the Canucks’ GM.
Through the pages of this book you will get a look at Mark Chipman and David Thomson, the two men most responsible for the Jets’ return to Winnipeg. And you’ll read all about how it happened.
There also are a whole lot of terrific photos and it’s great to see some of the older ones from the archives of the late, great Winnipeg Tribune, most from the always capable camera of Jon Thordarson.
(Hard cover, Viking Canada/Winnipeg Free Press, 208 pages, $35)
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