Growing up in rural Manitoba, the first jersey I ever got was of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
An older kid who lived down the street and who was an excellent player in his own right, had a passion for the Leafs and I keenly followed his lead. Hats, pajamas, tooth brush, underwear - yup, all Leafs. Soon I had a sweet "Starter" jacket with a blue and white crisp Maple Leaf on the back, and I couldn't have been more proud.
In those days our family had a quarter share of two season tickets for the Jets, and with me being the biggest hockey fanatic of the four kids and my Mom, I went to the lions share of the games with my Dad. I cheered for the Jets, was a big fan of Ducky and Teemu (and Essensa and Steen, and the list goes on and on...), but I always wore my Leafs jersey and when Toronto came to town, I absolutely wanted the Buds to leave with the two points.
Still, when the Jets left in '96 it was a crushing feeling. I was at the last ever game, when Detroit eliminated Winnipeg in Game six of the first round and I can vividly remember the old Winnipeg Arena being completely jammed at 6pm, the original whiteout crowd going crazy, chanting "GO JETS GO" a full 90 minutes before game time.
Like most of my friends, I donated some of my hard-earned summer employment cash to the grassroots campaign that was launched to try and raise enough capital to keep the team around for one more year, to buy a little more time to find a new owner. I attended the "Save the Jets" rally, where 15,000 fans staged a sit-in at the arena and Don Cherry told us not to give up.
But it didn't matter. The Jets were sold, relocated to Phoenix, and suddenly I had no reason to even consider splitting my allegiance. If I wasn't completely and 100% behind the Leafs prior to that moment, I most certainly was from that point on.
As the rumours grew louder and louder over the past few weeks that the NHL would indeed be returning to Winnipeg, many of my friends, colleagues, and even strangers who saw me walking down the street with my Leafs hat on, asked what I was going to do if the Jets/Falcons/Moose came back?
My initial answer was easy: I've invested more than 25 years of my life following the Leafs, living and dieing with each and every win and loss. If and when the Leafs finally do win a Stanley Cup (humour me), I want to be around for that payoff. But having a team in my own backyard that in many ways represents the emotional return of long-lost friend, well, that complicates things.
My mind tells me Leafs, my heart tells me Jets.
I'd like to think I'm a logical person.