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Conditions in Winnipeg are far different than they were in 1996, when Canada’s eighth-largest city lost its beloved Jets. The Canadian economy, struggling back then, is stronger, Zimbalist said, with its dollar about equal to the U.S. dollar. More than a sport, hockey is engrained in Canada’s culture.

There’s no questioning the commitment of the new ownership group, True North Sports and Entertainment, either. The group includes billionaire David Thomson, and was so determined to bring a team back to Winnipeg it went after the Coyotes first before turning its attention to Atlanta. True North also owns the MTS Centre, a 15,015-seat arena that opened in 2004.

“I don’t think this is a problematic market at all for hockey,” Zimbalist said.

Keep your fingers crossed he’s right. Otherwise Winnipeg will join Atlanta as one of those rare cities to lose a team not once, but twice.

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AP National Writer Nancy Armour can be reached at narmour(at)ap.org or follow her at http://twitter.com/nrarmour