WINNIPEG - David Kehler remembers the day 15 years ago when the Winnipeg Jets played their last game.
"I can't tell you how much that team meant to me," said Kehler, 42.
"It was like a close family member had died when they left. I was absolutely devastated."
But now Kehler is focused on the future and the new NHL team that will begin playing in the Manitoba capital this fall. Winnipeg's True North Sports and Entertainment announced Tuesday that it had purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and was moving the team in time for the 2011-12 season.
"Summer is so short here but we can hardly wait for winter," Kehler said Wednesday as he outlined how he and a friend plan on splitting season tickets in the upper bowl of the MTS Centre, the downtown arena where the as-yet unnamed team will play.
Kehler, who had season tickets with his grandfather for the Jets, is one of the 13,000 people True North wants to sign on to watch the new team. It's a guaranteed fan base NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said would be good to throw on the table when the league's board of governors meets to approve the move June 21.
Since Kehler wasn't a season-ticket holder for the Manitoba Moose, the American Hockey League team that has called the MTS Centre home, he will have to wait until Saturday. People with Moose season tickets got a jump on the rush with a pre-sale that started Wednesday.
A True North website ticket meter updated at 4:30 p.m. CDT each day showed that within the first 3 1/2 hours, fans had snapped up 1,870 tickets.
The online market Kijiji was full of others also eager to get a headstart by getting a pass from Moose regulars.
"If u don't want to purchase NHL season tickets please let me know I'd die to take your place in line!!!!!." wrote one eager hopeful from Kenora, Ont., about a 2 1/2 hour drive east of Winnipeg.
Another fan from Winnipeg was trying the same tactic.
"If you were a Manitoba Moose season ticket holder please contact me if you are not going to be purchasing NHL season tickets. I will buy your presale password off you. I am a huge fan and am definitely not purchasing this presale so I can buy tickets to scalp. Me and 3 friends will be attending all 41 games !!! Thanks !!!!! GO JETS GO !!!!!"
Others, like Kehler, were seeking partners to share the cost, which ranges from $1,755 to $5,805 for a full season. That works out to an average price of $82 a game, higher than most other Canadian teams, except for Montreal and Toronto. But with just over 15,000 seats, the MTS Centre is also the smallest arena in the league.
Kehler said he was pleased to see the top price as low as it was. He feared it might be a lot higher.
"We think we've hit the sweet spot on ticket prices," said True North president Jim Ludwig.
There's still the issue of the new team's name. That's expected to happen before the board of governors meets.
Lots of possibilities have been kicked around such as the Manitoba Threshers—which sounds a lot like the team's current name but refers instead to Manitoba's agricultural heritage rather than a bird—or the Manitoba Falcons.
The Winnipeg Falcons were the largely Icelandic team that won Canada's first Olympic hockey gold medal at the 1920 games in Antwerp.
But many fans seem to favour bringing back the Winnipeg "Jets" and Kehler is a leading proponent.
He started a petition last fall at http://www.gopetition.com/petition/39649.html calling on True North to adopt the name if it secured an NHL franchise.
Since the announcement, signatures have been flooding in, he said.
"I'm thinking it's close to 1,000 since yesterday, if not more."
The petition had close to 7,000 signatures on it as of Wednesday afternoon.