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Mark Chipman's work to return NHL to Winnipeg almost as soon as Jets left town

True North Sports and Entertainment Limited chairman Mark Chipman speaks during a press conference in Winnipeg, Tuesday May 31, 2011, announcing an NHL franchise returning to the city. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Lipnowski

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True North Sports and Entertainment Limited chairman Mark Chipman speaks during a press conference in Winnipeg, Tuesday May 31, 2011, announcing an NHL franchise returning to the city. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Lipnowski

Mark Chipman wears his love of hockey on his sleeve.

The Winnipeg businessman started the work to bring an NHL team to Winnipeg practically the day the league left town in 1996.

"I came away from that experience with a deep sense of disappointment, but also the realization that our lack of success was not anyone's fault," Chipman said of the loss of the Jets.

"Rather that after 17 years, the economics of our city and the NHL were no longer compatible. While the loss of the Winnipeg Jets had a profound effect on the psyche of our city and our province I believe it also stiffened our resolve."

Since 1996, Chipman has worked to create the conditions so that the NHL could return.

With the purchase of the minor league Manitoba Moose, the construction of the MTS Centre and a quiet and persistent campaign at the league's highest levels, that campaign came to fruition Tuesday.

Former Winnipeg mayor Glenn Murray said Chipman was a key leader in the public-private partnership that built the MTS Centre at a cost of $133.5 million, including $40.5 million in public money.

"You could not have built that facility or created the conditions for an NHL team to come back without a very community oriented, committed business leader like Mark, who was prepared to put his own reputation and assets on the line," he said.

Murray called the construction of the MTS Centre a turning point for the city.

"The loss of the Jets had really taken the stuffing out of the morale of a lot of folks," said Murray, who now serves as a provincial cabinet minister in Ontario.

"Mark's optimism throughout all of this was really important."

Chipman, who turned 50 this year, brought the Minnesota Moose of the IHL to Winnipeg in 1996 and renamed them the Manitoba Moose to fill the void left by the departure of the Winnipeg Jets for Phoenix.

When the IHL folded in 2001, he represented several former IHL members in talks that saw six IHL teams move to the American Hockey League, where the Moose currently play.

Chipman later formed True North Sports and Entertainment to own the Moose, the farm team for the Vancouver Canucks, and build the MTS Centre, the team's home in downtown Winnipeg, that opened in 2004.

When the Winnipeg Free Press named Chipman on its list of people that were shaping the province in 2006 it noted that if the NHL was ever going to return to Winnipeg that Chipman would "undoubtedly be the point man."

Originally a partnership among several owners, Chipman and partner David Thomson have since consolidated their ownership of True North Sports and Entertainment.

Chipman's father Robert opened Birchwood Pontiac Buick Ltd. in the 1960s. The auto dealership would become the Birchwood Automotive Group which includes more than a dozen automakers and more than 500 employees.

Megill Stephenson, the corporate parent to Birchwood, also owns the Stevenson Group, a real estate development company.

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Chipman earned an undergraduate degree in economics as well as a law degree from the University of North Dakota. He was called to the bar in Florida where worked as an assistant district attorney and later in private practice.

Chipman returned to Winnipeg in 1988 to work for the Birchwood Automotive Group and took over as president in 1992. He was named president of Megill Stephenson in September 2001.

Married with three daughters who all play hockey, Chipman has also been involved with Winnipeg Minor Hockey Association as both a player and a coach and as a director of the Hockey Canada Foundation, which helps raise money to fund development of players and promote the game.

John Paddock, general manager of the Jets when they left town in 1996, credited Chipman for getting the deal done.

"Mark Chipman's a loyal Winnipegger who's worked awfully hard at this," Paddock said.

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