In Dedication to Grassroots
Following is the dedication of the final Jets media guide, which details the failed efforts in the spring of 1995 to save the Jets:
On Wednesday, May 3, 1995, Winnipeg local investors known as the Manitoba Entertainment Complex Inc. (MEC) announced that they would not exercise their option to purchase the Winnipeg Jets and build a multi-purpose facility that would keep the club in Winnipeg. The end was certain. The future was bleak. The Jets, an integral part of Manitoba's way of life for over 23 years, were destined to be sold.
Due to the MEC's inability to come up with an economically viable solution to keep the team in Winnipeg, the Jets organization was left with no alternative but to accept reality and stage a proper farewell to the players, fans and the team's logo. The highlight of the event would be to say good-bye to Thomas Steen, the player who dedicated his entire career to the Jets and the city of Winnipeg. The Jets organized a ceremony that was held on May 6, 1995 at the Winnipeg Arena that paid tribute to Jets' players, staff, management, coaches, but most importantly the Jets' fans, who had proved over the years that they were, without question, the most loyal and dedicated in the entire NHL.
Over 16,000 fans turned up on Maroons Road to say goodbye to their heroes and spend a few last moments in the building that had provided them with so many bittersweet memories over the years. Children, teenagers, adults and grandparents witnessed a spectacular farewell that included an appearance by Hockey Night in Canada's Don Cherry. Cherry praised Jets fans, calling them the best in the world, and commended them for their tremendous support throughout the years. He complimented Thomas Steen on his remarkable career and encouraged fans not to give up hope and keep their dream alive that the team would remain in Winnipeg. The afternoon was extremely emotional. Cheers turned to boos as a banner with the Jets' logo commemorating 23 years of professional hockey in Winnipeg (1972-1995) was raised to the roof of the Winnipeg Arena. There were tears of joy and sorrow. The people were left stunned in disbelief. Could this really be it? Would this be the last time they assembled in this old barn for a Jets' event?
Thomas Steen's jersey retirement was the climax of the afternoon. The veteran of 14 NHL seasons had come to represent everything good the Jets organization had stood for: loyalty, commitment to excellence, hard work, dedication, and pride. Steen did everything you could ask for from a player and deserved the recognition and adulation that he received. Everyone cheered as his familiar #25 jersey was raised to the Arena rafters. Steen, accompanied by his family, teammates, and management stood in awe of the spectacle. When he signed his first pro contract in 1981, Steen expected to play three seasons in the NHL before returning to his native Sweden. He never would have imagined that he would play 14 years with the same organization that drafted him, and amass an incredible 264-553-817 in 950 NHL games. Steen's 14 years with the Jets were second only to Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins in years of service to one NHL franchise. The moment his jersey was raised to the ceiling of the Winnipeg Arena, one of the worst days in Steen's life became one of his best. He was overcome with pride.
The veteran had been so upset with the prospect of the team leaving the city that he became ill the day before the ceremony. Later, after the ceremony was completed, he still had hope that the team would stay and that a new arena would be built. The ceremony seemed to ignite the people of Manitoba. There were feelings of anger, disappointment, and frustration that seemed to fuel the public. The Blue Ribbon campaign, which had been instrumental to the dream of keeping the Jets in Winnipeg, gained momentum. Fans started looking for ways to contribute to keep the team in the city. The people had always wanted the team to stay, but were never able to visibly show their support. The onus was always on the politicians and the business leaders. The people needed a cause, a movement, a campaign. Then on May 9, 1995, Operation Grassroots began.
In an effort to persuade government and local buyers to construct a new arena and keep the Jets alive, a movement began. The public was asked to step forward and put their collective money where their mouths were. The response was overwhelming. Spurred by local radio station CJOB (680 AM), fans were encouraged to contribute anything they had to the Grassroots campaign through a four-day on-air telethon to help "Save the Jets". A phenomenal outpouring of support followed. Calls came in from around Canada and the world. Jets' fans from England, Japan, Australia as well as the U.S. and Canada called in and contributed to the cause. Through the efforts of CJOB, approximately $5 million was raised from the general public.
The culmination of this movement was a rally held at the Forks (a central gathering place in the downtown of the city) on May 16, 1995. An amazing turnout of over 35,000 fans were in attendance to show their support for the club. Bands played, speeches were made, donations were collected and in the end, over $250,000 was raised towards the purchase of the team. Jets' GM John Paddock and players Keith Tkachuk, Teemu Selanne, Kris King and Randy Gilhen were present at the rally. After witnessing the incredible outpouring of emotion and support, Paddock said "You just can't imagine what it's like unless you're here." Selanne added, "This city deserves a hockey team. This is great. If this works out, it will be unbelievable how strong this city is going to be." The following night, a hockey social (a traditional Winnipeg fund-raising event) was planned at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. Over 2,500 Jets faithful flocked to the Convention Centre and paid $100 each to help save the Jets. Festivities included live bands, player appearances, and a silent auction which generated additional funds for the project.
In the end, over $13.5 million was raised in Operation Grassroots. What the people of Manitoba accomplished was something unique and truly remarkable. Never before in the history of the city, the province or the country had a community responded in this fashion.
On August 14, 1995, the group known as The Spirit of Manitoba (a group of private investors developed out of MEC) announced, however, that they were unable to raise sufficient capital to proceed with the purchase of the Jets. With no alternative options available, Jets' Owner and President Barry Shenkarow announced that he would being seeking a buyer for the team, and confirmed the worst nightmare of Jets' fans, that 1995-96 would be the final season for the Jets in Winnipeg.
As a way of showing our appreciation to the thousands of fans who demonstrated their support throughout Operation Grassroots, the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club would like dedicate this final media guide to Jets' fans, the best in the National Hockey League.