Local NHLers applaud league's return to province

By Dan Falloon, Portage Daily Graphic

Arron Asham never got the chance to face the old Winnipeg Jets before they moved away.

In fact, the Jets flew south to Phoenix, Ariz. in the same year Asham was drafted in the third round by the Montreal Canadiens - 1996.

But the 33-year-old looks to have the chance to play an NHL game in his home province for the first time. Asham spent the 2010-11 season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but is an unrestricted free agent heading into the offseason.

Asham said that he'd like to stay in Pittsburgh and isn't allowed to speak to the other 29 teams until July 1, but acknowledged that the possibility of suiting up for a Winnipeg franchise is an intriguing one.

"I could one day play with them, which would be pretty cool," said Asham, who had 11 points in 44 regular season games and three goals in seven playoff games. "I was disappointed when they left, and I'm just glad that I'm still around in the league where I'm going to have a chance to come back and be a part of that atmosphere."

If Asham plays in the NHL next season, he's pumped for the chance to skate on the MTS Centre ice, regardless of which jersey he wears.

"I'm very excited. It gives me a chance to come back to my home province and play in front of my friends and family," said Asham. "Winnipeg has shown that they deserve a team. I'm just really happy for the whole province. It's great for our sport."

Portage's Troy Bodie, of the Carolina Hurricanes, is also thrilled to see the world's top hockey league make its way back to Manitoba. He admitted being shocked that a division rival was on the move.

"I'm absolutely excited," said Bodie from Los Angeles where he is spending his offseason. "I was the biggest Jets fan in the world growing up and I was the saddest kid in the world to see them go.

"To see it's Atlanta coming, it was actually a shock, but nonetheless, we've got NHL back in Winnipeg. It's been 15 years, so I'm really excited."

Winnipeg fans can expect to see a fair bit of Bodie, as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed on Tuesday that Winnipeg will stay in the Southeast Division alongside Carolina, Washington, Tampa Bay and Florida this year.

Bodie, 26, played at the MTS Centre twice in his American Hockey League career, visiting in Nov. 2008 as a member of the Iowa Chops.

"To actually play NHL hockey there, being back in Winnipeg, it's a dream come true," said Bodie, who hopes that the team retains the Jets name.

Bodie said he would have liked the opportunity to play at the old Winnipeg Arena, as he spent quite a bit of time there. The Bodies had season tickets in the final 1995-96 Jets campaign.

"I'd get to a few every year," said Bodie. "The happiest days for me were when I was in there watching Jets games."

Bodie expressed regret that the Thrashers' fanbase was losing its team, but "if it's for them to come to Winnipeg, then I'll take it".

Bodie played in Atlanta three times, twice with Carolina and once with Anaheim. He said that, in the end, the numbers of fans just weren't there.

"It was pretty quiet in that arena," said Bodie.

"I shouldn't say that the support wasn't there because they love their team, and I'd never want to take that away from them. but there just weren't a lot of bodies in the seats."

Bodie is a restricted free agent heading into the offseason, and said that while he hasn't heard anything yet about getting a deal done, acknowledged that it's still early and there's plenty of time to stay in Raleigh.

"It's a great community. They really come around the team and support it well," said Bodie, who had a goal and two assists in 50 games with Carolina this season. "It's fun playing there."

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