Thrashers Future Hockey

Winnipeg’s “Drive to 13” off to a huge start


When True North made their announcement that they were going to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers and move the team to Winnipeg, they made it clear that they had another task to complete. True North shifted their focus to having the fans in Winnipeg and around Manitoba, Canada step up and show the NHL that they’re serious about having the team come to Winnipeg and be successful there.

True North started their “Drive To 13” campaign in which they want to sell 13,000 season tickets by June 21 when the NHL Board of Governors will meet and vote whether to approve the sale and relocation of the franchise. In True North’s mind, and perhaps the NHL’s as well, selling 13,000 season tickets in just a matter of three weeks is a good way to prove they’re serious about bringing a team back.

So far it appears that they’re very serious about buying tickets as well.

By late afternoon Thursday, True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd., announced 4,170 season tickets were sold, which is almost equal to the 4,500 season tickets for the departing Manitoba Moose. All season tickets come with a commitment from the buyer from three to five years.

This is significant because the first three days of the online campaign are only open to groups of subscribers to the Moose, the American Hockey League team that is being moved to St. John’s.

That’s a pretty healthy percentage of people who are eligible to buy the tickets early taking advantage of the early sale. With the general season ticket sales opening up to the rest of Winnipeg and ticket buyers around, it’s hard to imagine that the team will run into any problems at all meeting the goal of 13,000. With just 8,830 tickets left to go, you’d have to imagine that with sales being opened up to the rest of the public things will go over rather smoothly.

MTS Centre in Winnipeg holds just over 15,000 fans so getting a commitment of 13,000 like that right up front is huge. Should all those tickets get bought up that guarantees having 87% of the building filled (or at least paid for) no matter what for at least the next three seasons. For what it’s worth, an 87% filled building would put Winnipeg 22nd in the NHL for capacity percentage this year. With up to 2,000 walk up tickets available each game that number isn’t too inspiring, but considering that season ticket sales won’t be stopped once they hit 13,000 we’ve got a good feeling about how things will shake out in Winnipeg attendance-wise in the meantime.

It’s a situation worth monitoring until they hit their target number, but we’ve got a feeling this watch on the “Drive To 13” won’t last all that long. The fans in Winnipeg have been hoping for a return of the NHL for the last 15 years and they’re not about to let it slip away now.

Canucks spoil Ducks’ home opener via shootout

Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks have already found a groove just three games into the regular season. The Anaheim Ducks are still looking for a way to get their offense going.

Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows scored in the shootout, and the Canucks spoiled Anaheim’s home opener with a 2-1 victory Monday night.

Miller made 28 saves and Adam Cracknell scored in regulation for Vancouver, which beat the Ducks for just the third time in their last 12 meetings.

Vancouver improved to 2-0 on the road in the young season, with Miller yielding just one goal in each game. That’s encouraging to the veteran, who played in only four games after Feb. 22 last season while dealing with a knee injury.

“I’m just trying to go out there and battle and compete,” said Miller, who stopped a third-period redirection by Carl Hagelin with his mask. “That was my mindset coming off an injury. That’s what it really comes down to, getting back the focus early on. I didn’t play hockey for a while. The technical stuff I worked on this summer and I pay attention to in practice.”

Even with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin combining for just one shot, the Canucks won the new season’s first meeting between the Pacific Division’s top two teams last year. Anaheim won its third straight division title, while Vancouver finished a surprising second before losing in the opening round of the playoffs.

Sami Vatanen scored and Frederik Andersen stopped 24 shots for the Ducks, who have scored just one goal while going winless in the first two games of a season that begins with Stanley Cup aspirations.

Anaheim was shut out in San Jose on Saturday in its opener before returning to Honda Center for its first real game on home ice since Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, when Chicago advanced to win the Stanley Cup.

Kevin Bieksa played nearly 24 1/2 minutes in his second game with the Ducks. Anaheim acquired the veteran defenseman from Vancouver last summer after he played 10 years with the Canucks, who drafted him in 2001. Bieksa was reunited with Ryan Kesler, the longtime Vancouver forward who moved to Anaheim before last season.

“We fought back a lot better than we did in San Jose,” Bieksa said. “So we need to keep building on this in the rest of this homestand here. If we do that, we’re going to be all right.”

After the Ducks failed to score on a power play during their first official taste of 3-on-3 overtime hockey, Vrbata and Burrows got stuttering, halting shots past Andersen, who stopped Burrows’ shot before watching it trickle under him.

“I’ve done that move a few times against a few goalies, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it against Freddie,” Burrows said. “So I tried it, and I’m lucky it went in tonight. It hit his stick and trickled in.”

Jakob Silfverberg scored in the shootout for the Ducks, who lost their home opener for just the second time in six seasons. Anaheim’s talented offensive players aren’t clicking so far, but nobody is panicking yet.

“I think we’re doing things the right way now,” Vatanen said. “We battled hard. We got some good chances. The season is long, so we’re going the right way.”

Both teams opened at a furious pace, with end-to-end chances throughout. After a scoreless first period, Vatanen got the Ducks’ first goal of the season when his long, low shot went through Mike Santorelli‘s screen.

Cracknell evened it later in the period with a sharp-angled shot that somehow deflected off Andersen’s shoulder or stick and landed behind the goalie. The journeyman got his first regular-season NHL goal since April 4, 2013, and just the seventh of his 85-game NHL career.

“Pretty fortunate goal on their part,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NOTES: A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Honda Center to call for the suspension of Ducks D Clayton Stoner, who faces charges in Canada related to a 2013 grizzly bear hunt. … Cracknell hadn’t scored a goal in his last 49 regular-season games, although he got a postseason goal in 2014 for St. Louis.

Coming Tuesday: Dan Boyle, $4.5M healthy scratch

Brad Marchand, Dan Boyle

Few things say “Oops, bad signing” quite like putting a really expensive player in street clothes (without an injury being involved).

The Philadelphia Flyers set quite the high bar in that regard, but the New York Rangers can’t laugh too much. Not with Dan Boyle expected to be a healthy scratch against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

The word from the Bergen Record is that Dylan McIlrath will draw into the Rangers lineup in Boyle’s space, although Kevin Klein will take over Boyle’s role on the power play.

Let’s face the facts. At 39, Boyle may still boast some zip on offense, but maybe not enough to justify an everyday role.

It’s not the first time the Rangers have decided to make the difficult, awkward season to phase a big name out as he approaches age 40.

Even if it’s just a momentary situation, one cannot help but wonder if Boyle’s career is screeching to halt much like Martin St. Louis’ did in 2014-15 (though the latter’s decline was more sudden).

On the bright side, it sounds like Boyle has a side job lined up with Faith No More.