WINNIPEG — Of all the teams he’s played on, of all the trophy’s four-time Stanley Cup winner Ab McDonald has collected, he remains most loyal to the Winnipeg Jets.
“I’m a Winnipegger and I’m going to cheer for Winnipeg,” said McDonald.
Tonight the 79 year-old will be cheering from his couch, while former players like Tim Stapleton plan to be in the stands.
“I always said I wasn’t going to come back to Winnipeg until they made the playoffs,” said Stapleton, who parted ways with the Jets after their inaugural season in 2011. “I know how fun it’s going to be. I’m actually jealous not to be part of it anymore.”
The Jets and their fan base have come along way since the team was first introduced in 1972.
That’s when professional hockey was brought to Winnipeg as part of the World Hockey Association, a new and rival league to the NHL.
Joe Daley was playing with the Detroit Red Wings when he was asked to come home and play with the Jets. Bobby Hull, arguably one of the greatest players with the NHL at that time, had already agreed to come play in Winnipeg, an announcement that was met with a gathering at Portage and Main.
“At that time it was almost disbelief. You know Bobby Hull is leaving Chicago and the NHL to come to Winnipeg? I don’t think people really believed it was going to transpire,” said Daley.
The Jets played in the WHA until 1979, when they joined the NHL. They made the playoffs 11 times before folding in 1996. They wouldn’t return until 2011.
Despite the ups and downs, Jets alumni say the fan base has only grown stronger.
“Hockey belongs here, as you can see,” said McDonald. “We had good crowds back with the WHA, it got better with NHL, and now look at it. ”