Dallas Drake knows what it’s like to play hockey in Winnipeg but he is still happy to see the city get another chance to play in the National Hockey League.
The Rossland native played for the Jets in 1993 and 1994 in what would be the last two seasons for the troubled franchise before they were moved to the desert. Yet ironically, like a phoenix, the Jets are set to rise again.
“I think it’s great, I mean it’s obviously huge for Winnipeg getting the team back,” said Drake from his home in Michigan.
“They were in a tough situation, 15-16 years ago where they just didn’t have a proper building to support an NHL team, obviously they got a much better building there now and the fan base I don’t think will ever be a problem.”
The Manitoba city will be the smallest market in the league with one of the smallest arenas, but Winnipeg doesn’t have the same competition for market share as Atlanta or other large centres.
“I don’t know if they plan on adding anymore luxury boxes to the rink or more seating, I mean it’s the smallest seating rink in the league so they’re going to have their challenges and unfortunately sometimes it’ll be tough to get players to go there, especially free agents.”
Drake was traded to the Jets after a great rookie season in Detroit, but as a single 24-year-old in the windy city he has no regrets about his time in Winnipeg.
“I had a great time,” said Drake. “I was only there for two years, was unmarried at the time with no kids, so it was relatively easy for myself. We had a young team and did a lot of things together as guys, because we were all single . . . it was fun for a lot of us at that time.”
Drake is confident Winnipeg will meet the 13,000 season-ticket quota set by the NHL in order to finalize the move by June 21.
“I find it hard to believe they won’t find a way to get that done, I think that’s just a technicality and it’s got to be approved by the board of governors which I’m sure it will.”
Drake’s 18-year NHL career came full circle in 2008, retiring after a Stanley Cup victory with the Detroit Red Wings, the team that drafted him in 1989.
Known for his character as much as his commitment and hard work, Drake continues to give back to his community, raising four kids, coaching and is director of the Grand Traverse Hockey Association.