Bobby and the Jets
It was with supersonic speed that the good people of Winnipeg let True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd. know that it was a good business decision to buy the Atlanta Thrashers and transfer the NHL team north.
Season tickets were offered first to supporters of the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, who snapped them up, of course. When opened online to the general public, all 13,000 season tickets offered were bought immediately. One fan who was waiting in line told the Canadian Press that the queue was full within two minutes of the tickets going on sale. It took 17 minutes for the box office to process the 13,000 requests.
The story reminded me of the excitement hockey fans felt when the original Winnipeg Jets actually became the Jets. It was thanks to the “Golden Jet” – Bobby Hull.
Hull – who is credited with making the flashy-looking slap shot the technique of choice among high scorers – had been lighting up things in Chicago since 1957, giving him just a few years to develop before the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 1961. The Blackhawks, my father and I would observe, seemed to have a similar style to the Toronto Maple Leafs, making games between the two ‘must see’ events. In the early 1960s, they – along with the Montreal Canadiens – may have been the best hockey teams in the world.
Years ago at a small town Hall of Fame induction ceremony, I ran into Bobby Hull and asked him how it felt to step onto the ice as a member of the Winnipeg Jets in 1972.
He said it felt like a million bucks.
Bobby went on to explain that someone had approached him and asked how much money it would take to get him to jump from the NHL to the new World Hockey Association. He jokingly said ‘a million bucks.’
He admitted to me that when Jets owner Ben Hatskin pulled together a consortium that actually was capable of raising that amount, he was floored. He said that after 14 years in the NHL, he didn’t really want to take a chance on an upstart league. But $1,000,000 spread over ten years seemed like pretty good estate planning.
Ultimately, financial pressures forced the WHA to merge with the NHL, which actually was the best possible outcome for hockey fans in The ‘Peg. Beginning in 1980, Winnipeg Jets fans started to see the greats of the National Hockey League step off the plane.
And now, the jets landing at Richardson International will again be bringing the world’s best hockey players to perhaps the world’s best fans.