The Heart of the Continent Doesn’t Need to Love Bryzgalov

By Jason MenardThe Phoenix Coyotes haven’t even called in the moving truck, but one player already has an early invitation to visit their once and presumptive-future home. But instead of rolling out the red carpet for Ilya Bryzgalov, Winnipeg’s mayor should have turned on The River City’s No Vacancy sign.

Bryzgalov, you see, went on an ignorance-filled rant against the Manitoban capital, castigating it for it’s cold winters, lack of excitement, and death of parks and family oriented activities. Of course, Bryzgalov is speaking from the vast experience he’s gleaned from at most two games played in Manitoba during his stint in the AHL.

Yet instead of taking the Russian netminder’s words for what they were — ignorant — the city’s mayor, Sam Katz, has offered to fly the multi-millionaire to Winnipeg, paying for the tip out of his own pocket, in an attempt to woo Bryzgalov and show him that there’s more to the city than the Winterpeg designation.

Katz could have a limo pick up Bryzgalov at the airport. He could have the city’s few-thousand-strong Russian contingent line the streets. Heck, he line Portage and Main with babuskas and it would only add up to one thing: leaving Winnipeg with the stench of desperation.

There’s no need to denigrate Bryzgalov’s upbringing. After all, there are striking similarities between Winnipeg and the bustling metropolis of Tolyatti, Russia, from whence he came. Tolyatti is a town whose greatest fame comes from the fact that it’s the home of the Lada. It’s a town of just over 700,000 — a number that’s very similar to Winnipeg’s population.

And there’s no need to promote the City of Winnipeg any further. This is a town that has a well-regarded ballet, an opera, a rich history and a promising future — it is to be the home of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. And — despite Bryzgalov’s beliefs — a tremendous amount of activities geared towards children, including an annual children’s festival and a children’s museum.

All in all, it’s a fine city. Sure, the weather may, at times, be cold. Unlike Glendale, AZ, it has actual seasons. No, Canadians don’t spend all 12 months of the year in igloos, but -40 degrees Celcius isn’t out of the question some days in winter.

But one of the most important things Winnipeg has going for it is a passionate fan base who will deify those returning Jets/Coyotes. Bryzgalov would have the honour of playing before a packed house of knowledgeable, invested hockey fans who not only know the game, but live and breathe the sport.

It’s an honour he’s shown he doesn’t deserve.

I understand Katz’ motivation. Nobody wants their city to be insulted. And the knee-jerk reaction is to defend your town’s honour. Unfortunately, it’s not going to work. Bryzgalov has made up his mind — and like a teenage boy, no amount of logic, facts, or information is going to change it. He’s not going to come in and be an ambassador for the city. Should the Coyotes head north with Bryzgalov, he’s likely going to remain sullen and try to force his way out of town through a combination of pouting, whining, and lackluster effort.

There’s no upside for Katz and the City of Winnipeg. If Katz plays the role of suitor, he’s just going to come across as desperate — and the city will be guilty by association. If he’s unsuccessful in his courtship of Bryzgalov, then it’s a black mark on a city that doesn’t deserve it.

There’s no way for Katz to win. As a matter of fact, it’s a game he shouldn’t even be playing. Winnipeg may be The Heart of the Continent, but if Bryzgalov doesn’t love this incredible hockey city for what it is, then there’s no reason why it should even attempt to love him back.

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