* Canadian Tire gives away 1,500 sticks to cheer NHL return
* Season tickets for relocated team selling fast
By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba, June 3 Jubilant
Winnipeggers saw their long-tested faith in the National Hockey
League's return rewarded this week, but when it comes to
giveaways, Canadian Prairie manners and skepticism rule.
Canadian Tire Corp (CTC.TO), a major retailer of sporting
goods, as well as auto and household items, placed 1,500 hockey
sticks around the Manitoba capital's downtown on Friday in a
promotional giveaway to cheer Tuesday's conditional purchase of
the Atlanta Thrashers.
The money-losing club will move to Winnipeg if the NHL's
board of governors approves the sale to True North Sports and
Entertainment on June 21.
On Friday morning, downtown workers strode past a cluster
of wooden sticks leaned against the MTS Centre, where the still
unnamed team will play.
"Most people are saying, 'Is it free or not?'" said Jacques
Trudel, a Canadian Tire worker sporting the company's hockey
jersey. "People are too honest."
But word spread quickly through the reputedly frugal city,
and neatly dressed office workers soon had sticks slung over
their shoulders, heading to their cubicles.
"It's awesome," said Kevin McDowell of the NHL's return.
"We've been waiting for a long time," he said as he made his
way to the office with a free stick.
Winnipeggers aren't always a modest bunch.
Three times in the past two weeks, they have blocked
traffic at the busy downtown corner of Portage and Main to
cheer the league's return with games of street hockey, chanting
On Tuesday evening, police dispersed an NHL-happy crowd at
The Forks tourist site that they said was getting out of hand.
Winnipeg's last NHL team, the Jets, moved to Phoenix,
Arizona, in 1996.
True North launched a drive on Wednesday to sell what is
the city's hottest ticket in years.
As of Thursday afternoon, True North had taken deposits on
4,170 multi-year commitments for season tickets from a limited
group. All 13,000 season tickets are expected to sell out soon
after they go on sale to the general public on Saturday.
(Editing by Rob Wilson)