Last month, there was a display on hockey history at the Millennium Library. It’s mostly gone now, but there wasn’t a lot there, so there’s no reason to feel badly if you missed it.
What was there, however, painted a graphic picture on the dark and disturbing state of hockey in our city.
I walked along and saw items showing the Winnipeg Victorias along with other teams from the distant past, which was good to see. Moving on, there were a few items on the Jets. A Randy Carlyle and a Thomas Steen jersey were hung in the background and a few nice artifacts were available for viewing that included a game program, a couple of pictures of players, and even a pom-pom from one of the White Outs.
Across the aisle, there were two panels, one dedicated to the Manitoba Moose, and the other to the team formerly known as the Atlanta Thrashers.
In the Moose panel, there was a flag hung in the background along with a jersey and a picture of Mark Chipman, the team’s owner, president, and de facto general manager. In the next panel, along with a flag, were more pictures of Chipman.
I glanced back at the Jets’ display. I saw players. I didn’t see Ben Hatskin, Michael Gobuty, or Barry Shenkarow.
The Moose, whose presence was largely ignored and sometimes resented, did, against considerable odds, play here for 15 years. They retired Mike Keane’s jersey and had other players such as Jimmy Roy and Brian Chapman have long tours of duty wearing the antlers. Like them or not, they had a history almost as long as that of the NHL Jets. Despite that, there was only the owner’s picture on display.
In fairness, I suspect that neither Chipman nor any of his servile cronies had anything to do with the content of this display. In the case of the former Thrashers, there isn’t a lot of history to be displayed.
However, the content was no accident either. Chipman, in the cases of both his teams, made himself and continues to make himself the face of the franchise. Whenever there is any news surrounding the team, Chipman is front and center and he has probably received more air time since seizing control of the Thrashers than Shenkarow had during nearly two decades in a leading role with the Jets. When the final chapter is written for his current hockey team, it is highly probable that the display would not have to be changed to accurately reflect the team’s history.
I was a Jets’ season ticket holder for five years. During that time, I went to see the players play. I went to see Dale Hawerchuk, Paul MacLean, Morris Lukowich, Dave Ellett, and others. I did not go to see the owner own. I didn’t even care who owned the team, nor did I want to hear from him.
I ceased my support and ended all my interest in the Moose as Chipman took an increasingly active role in every facet of the team. Sadly, things are no different today with his current hockey team.
The game is about the players, not about the owner. Too many owners in pro sports today have taken on the role of “face of the franchise” and Chipman is foremost among them.
Part of being a fan is feeling like you have a stake in the team. You may not have a financial investment in the club, but you have a deep, emotional investment in it. That emotional investment can be even more binding than a financial commitment as you religiously follow the day-to-day fortunes of the team. I know the feeling as many of you do of living and dying with every goal, win, or loss.
When the presence of the owner becomes bigger than the team, that feeling goes away. The team no longer has a life of its own, it just becomes another corporate asset, no different than your local Wal-Mart.
I doubt that the people at the library had this in mind when they set up the display, but they could not have painted a clearer picture of the state of hockey in Winnipeg.
As I’ve said before to anyone desperately clamoring for an NHL team, be careful what you wish for. Now you’ve got it and it may be more than you can digest. You might be buying Pepto-Bismol by the case in a few years time.