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In Manitoba, Canada hockey is king. The city of Winnipeg and its residents were fortunate enough to have an NHL team in their hometown from 1972 to 1996. While never being able to command notable success (the team only advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs once, only be swept) there was definitely a love from the fan base. Financial woes forced the team to relocate to Phoenix and the citizens of Winnipeg lost their beloved team.
Almost immediately, there was a push for the NHL to bring a team back to Winnipeg. After years of effort, the fans got their wish when the struggling Atlanta Thrashers sold to a Winnipeg-based group and moved back north for the 2011-2012 season. And while the team has still been struggling on the ice (only one playoff appearance in 2014, a sweep by the Anaheim Ducks), Winnipeg is thrilled to have a team back at home.
Last season the Jets just missed the playoffs by one spot, coming in ninth in the Western Conference. Head coach Paul Maurice is not satisfied with the performance and will be pushing his players even harder this season. There is definitely significant talent to draw from on this roster, starting with team captain Blake Wheeler. The big veteran winger puts forth a solid effort each night for Winnipeg and leads by example. Mark Scheifele is a young center whose game is really coming together. Second year phenom Patrik Laine is poised to improve on his breakout rookie season with a stellar sophomore campaign. Nikolaj Ehlers is right next to him on the stats sheet.
The young defense is anchored by the veteran leadership of Dustin Byfuglien. His resume includes a Stanley Cup win as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks so he knows what it will take to bring this team to the next level. Goaltending duties are split between Connor Hellebuyck, who re-signed over the summer to a one year contract, and Steve Mason, who joined the team in the offseason from Philadelphia on a two year deal.
There is a lot of work to be done, but this squad is up the task. There will be no backing down in Winnipeg this season, and with the crowd on their side, this team has the potential to break through to a playoff berth and turn some heads with their gritty style of hockey.
This city has been the home of a great number of star players, including Dale Hawerchuk, Bobby Hull, Phil Housley, Andrew Ladd, Ilya Kovalchuk, Teemu Selanne, Blake Wheeler, and Dustin Byfuglien. Click here to learn more about this great hockey franchise.