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Reveling in hockey's roots

All of them moved, leaving behind small cities where they were the biggest game in town. And it almost didn't stop there.

Remember that the Pittsburgh Penguins were on the brink of going to Kansas City, and that the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators went into bankruptcy. Between those events and the 2004-05 lockout, it was very easy to abandon the ice for good.

Now - dare we say it, the NHL might be the best league going? Attendance is up. Ratings are up. Stable ownership, like the Pegula family in Buffalo, has insured a long-term future for many different franchises. And now the once-abandoned outposts are returning to the fold.

Meanwhile, the NFL languishes in a lockout, the NBA might head for one the moment the Finals end, and Major League Baseball still deals with enormous economic inequities - not to mention the cash troubles of the Dodgers and Mets in big towns.

Skeptics will point out that Winnipeg, with a population of 750,000 or so, doesn't have the population base, or economic base, to sustain a franchise through purchasing season tickets or luxury boxes, even in a shiny new arena that has gone up in downtown.

Well, I can pretty much guess that the entire first season of the new Manitoba franchise (the Moose? Maybe the Winnipeg Jets again?) will be sold out, and that the noise at one game in October will equal the 11 years the franchise spent ignored in Georgia.

And if they ever get back to the playoffs...well, just remember that it was Winnipeg that, first, came up with the "whiteout" concept of all the home fans dressed in white that the NBA folks ripped off. The off-the-charts emotions you're seeing in Vancouver and Boston as they battle for Lord Stanley's silver hardware would be manifest again.

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