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Winnipeg hockey supporters rally at The Forks in Winnipeg, Tuesday May 31, 2011 after the announcement that an NHL team will be returning to the city after 15 years. (DAVID LIPNOWSKI/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Winnipeg hockey supporters rally at The Forks in Winnipeg, Tuesday May 31, 2011 after the announcement that an NHL team will be returning to the city after 15 years. (DAVID LIPNOWSKI/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe Editorial

Canada, hockey is coming home Add to ...

Home is the place, as the poet Robert Frost wrote, that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

He could have been talking about hockey, and Winnipeg. Winnipeg jumped to the rescue of a franchise in Atlanta that had no other buyers in Atlanta, or elsewhere in the United States, willing to make a competitive offer.

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The return of top-level hockey to Manitoba, with its proud tradition, from the Winnipeg Victorias team that won Stanley Cups in 1896 and 1901 to the modern-day, much-missed Jets, is a time for celebration.

And if Winnipeg, why not Quebec City? And if Quebec City, why not a second team in southern Ontario?

Canada is hockey's home. And this country, its fans and its corporate sector stand ready to take in the teams that need a home.

It doesn't matter that the National Hockey League's first choice, or even second, for dying franchises, isn't Canada. (The first is not to move at all; the second is to move to other U.S. cities.) The NHL prefers to be in the richest television markets. Understood.

But there will be more teams looking for a home, soon. The Phoenix Coyotes are hanging on by a thread. The Florida Panthers are vulnerable, as are the Columbus Blue Jackets. There may be others.

Hockey is still a gate-driven sport. And hockey's true gates are in Canada. "Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa are three of the smallest markets in the NHL, yet these franchises enjoy arena gate revenues that exceed almost every American franchise," the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation says. Small in Canada equals big in the United States. "Being Canadian is even more important than size."

Size doesn't matter. Being Canadian matters.

The West is rising; Winnipeg's new franchise is the fourth in a Western province. The rest of Canada has just three NHL teams. Souther Ontario has nine million people and one team. The dollar is strong, and the passion for hockey in Canada is as high as ever.

There is nothing wrong with dreaming big, as the NHL has donwith its Sun Belt strategy. But when the dream fails, when a franchise has to come home, guess who is there to take it in, joyously.

Welcome home.

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