The Atlanta Thrashers players were in the dark as much as anyone, checking the internet every day for updates on what would happen with their team as relocation reports continued to come in.
But when the announcement was finally made official on Tuesday afternoon, few were shocked that the team was moving to Winnipeg.
“I saw it coming,” Thrashers defenceman Mark Stuart said. “After Phoenix went through and they were going to stay, we became the topic of conversation.
“So I expected it, but there was kind of just a waiting period until it became official. It doesn’t really come as that big of a surprise.”
As for players’ reaction to the news, now that the move has been made official, it has been all positive -- save for a few quips about the weather.
Several players remarked on Tuesday how they were looking forward to playing in front of a city that will have the NHL back 15 years after losing its team.
“It's probably going to be bigger than most guys think,” captain Andrew Ladd said. “I think not having [NHL] hockey there for 15 years, it's kind of built up and built up to the point where I'm sure [fans] are ready to blow the doors off the hinges and get this thing going.”
“I’m excited to go there, I’m excited for the fans there,” said Stuart, who has been monitoring the situation online every day from his off-season home in Minneapolis. “Everyone can see how excited they are to have an NHL team back and they’re very deserving of that.”
“I think it’s going to be great,” netminder Ondrej Pavelec added. “I know how they love hockey in Canadian cities, and I’m excited to play for Winnipeg.”
While no one on the Thrashers roster is from Manitoba, the team has plenty of players from relatively nearby, with three growing up in Minnesota and another five from Western Canada.
Stuart said his family is looking forward to having him closer to his hometown of Rochester, Minn., and that he has already been hearing from former teammates who are from the Winnipeg area.
“[Bruins defenceman] Shane Hnidy texted me today saying I’ll really enjoy it there,” Stuart said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
“I’ve heard stories about Winnipeg from guys that had a chance to play there and really enjoyed it. About the support and the fans. That’s very exciting for a player.”
Even those not all that familiar with the city know at least one aspect will change from life in Atlanta.
“I’ve been there twice or three times when I was playing in Chicago, and it’s cold,” Pavelec said. “Very cold. But it’s a hockey city. That’s all I really know: It’s cold and it has a nice hockey rink.”
Ladd, meanwhile, is a free agent in need of a new contract, something that wasn’t getting done with the ownership situation in Atlanta unsettled.
He said he’s hopeful True North Sports and Entertainment will show a commitment to building the team into a contender in Winnipeg.
“I think the biggest thing for me is they’ve figured out the ownership and they’re going to want to put the best team on the ice, spend a little money to support the guys we already have,” Ladd told TSN Radio. “I think we have the right setup to have a great team.”
With files from The Canadian Press