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Meghan and Brady Simpson dress their son Blake in a new Winnipeg Jets jersey and hat. Jets fans are among the most loyal in the NHL, but everywhere, it seems, fans are happy to have hockey back. (JOHN WOODS/GLOBE AND MAIL)
Meghan and Brady Simpson dress their son Blake in a new Winnipeg Jets jersey and hat. Jets fans are among the most loyal in the NHL, but everywhere, it seems, fans are happy to have hockey back. (JOHN WOODS/GLOBE AND MAIL)

Our Game

Fans forgive and forget as the puck (finally) drops on the NHL season Add to ...

Blake’s mother Meghan will be in the couple’s other seat, just as committed. She even says, a bit tongue-in-cheek, that the Jets played a part in Blake’s existence: She was a member of Leafs Nation, Brady a passionate fan of the Ottawa Senators, and their dates often became debates over the bitter Battles of Ontario.

“It was better for our marriage that the Jets came back,” she says.

“We didn’t have to fight anymore,” Brady agrees.

The Simpsons have just purchased a home in Brandon so that Brady can be closer to his job at the McCain’s french-fry processing factory in Carberry, but they have no plans to give up their $7,300-a-year tickets, despite the two-hour drive to the Jets games.

During the lockout, Brady says he went through the emotions the media talked about, and he believed they might last even after it ended.

“I was angry,” he says. “I was pissed off. I was happy the season was going to be scratched. But then they got an agreement and after a couple of hours I was happy, I was excited. People were saying we should boycott, but in Winnipeg you can’t boycott, because the next guy over is waiting to take your tickets.”

“Everybody loves hockey too much in Winnipeg,” Meghan adds. “All is forgiven.”

Geoff Brookes, a Winnipeg accountant who has been a Jets fan since the World Hockey Association days of the 1970s, says there is reason for this, and that it lies deep in the core of the Winnipeg soul. This is a city, he says, that once had visions of grandeur – it was seen as second only to Chicago as a mid-west power – and slipped badly.

The loss of the NHL team in 1996 was seen as confirmation of its failed status, until True North Sports and Entertainment, which owns the MTS Centre, convinced the league to try Winnipeg again.

“The euphoria over the return of our Jets will last a very long time,” Brookes says. “It represents the return of all the hockey memories and the promise of a bright hockey future. It restores our pride in our city and our province. For many of us in Winnipeg and Manitoba that feel this way, the lockout was a side story.”

“The attitude was ‘We’ve waited 15 years – what’s another four months?’” says Winnipeg Free Press sportswriter Tim Campbell.

That may well explain Winnipeg, but what explains Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, where four months of fury toward the NHL and its players appeared to evaporate like a bad smell in an elevator once the doors opened? In a new national Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll, 66 per cent said they would watch just as much hockey as they did before.

Roch Carrier, the beloved author who wrote the story The Hockey Sweater, whose words grace that $5 bill with the kids playing, has said that, if you are a Canadian, “Hockey is life.”

What does that really mean? “In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold,” Bruce Kidd and John Macfarlane wrote shortly before the 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series, “hockey is the dance of life, an affirmation that despite the deathly chill of winter we are alive.”

This fall’s celebrations of that 40-year-old series ran counter to the anger Canadians felt toward the league and players for denying them their “dance of life.” And it may just be that the re-arrival of hockey in the bleakest time of year, so cold and so dark, has allowed Canadians to somehow compartmentalize their strong feelings for hockey.

Be mad still at commissioner Gary Bettman and the greedy billionaire owners that shut out the players. Be disappointed still at the millionaire players who fled, laughing, to Europe to take the jobs of those who needed them more.

But do not take it out on the game itself – and certainly not, we tend to think, on the home team that, surely, could not have been caught up in such childishness and greed, and only wished to play the game they had played since childhood.

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