Fans at the MTS Centre have been treated to many special moments since the Jets returned. Last night seemed like a game like any other, the Ottawa Senators beat the Winnipeg Jets in what many thought was a snooze fest of a 2-1 game. However the game sheet won’t tell you the whole story on a night like this, a moment so special you had to be in attendance to see. Unless you were a Jets fan, or an MTS Centre regular, you wouldn’t even fully have understood what was going on when midway through the second period the crowd roared in applause when an older man was shown on the jumbo tron, bringing this man, and many in the crowd to tears. The man Len Kropioski, effectively known as “Kroppy” in the city, is not just any fan though, this is his story.
Since NHL hockey returned to Winnipeg, the crowds at MTS Centre have developed many traditions and customs over the years. From the shouting of “True North” during the national anthem, to the taunts that target the other teams star player or goalie. However, one tradition started very organically, and we have to go all the way back to season one, and the first couple exhibition and season games for the origin. During Oh Canada on one of these early nights for the franchise, right at the closing lines, a savvy camera man noticed an older man, dressed in military garb, saluting the flag and singing along from his seats in the front row against the glass. As this man, Len Kropioski, was focused on, the crowd burst into cheers and a round of applause, and as the anthem ended, Kropioski gave the crowd a quick thumbs up, and immediately became a fixture at the MTS Centre.
As the games and seasons past, Kroppy, as he became known, was a fixture at Jets games, always in his seats behind the glass, and more and more was learned about him. Kroppy was a World War II veteran, who despite living in Kenora, had strong ties to the city of Winnipeg, and to the original Jets team. Strong enough apparently, that he made the over two-hour drive to almost every Jets game over the first four and a half years the team was back.
Kroppy was an instant fan favorite, and his appearance during the national anthem became one of Jets fans favorite traditions. Kroppy is a man who earns immediate respect. His military dress, medals, and the salute to the flag and the crowd made the guy easy to love. It was for this reason, that when earlier this season Kroppy did not appear at a few home games in a row, fans immediately took notice. Rumors began to swirl as to what happened, Kroppy was after all, a nearly 98 year-old man, many thought the worst. News outlets in Winnipeg picked up the story and Jets fans got a couple of updates.
Despite the positive assurances, weeks past with no sightings and rumors ran wild that Kroppy would never return to the MTS Centre, that he had seen his last game. The outpouring of emotion and support towards Kroppy and his family was enormous. The man meant more to Jets fans than anyone had expected. Finally, seemingly out of nowhere, family of Kroppy announced he would be returning to the MTS Centre for another game. His health had improved and there was nothing the veteran wanted more than to return to one of his favorite places.
When the national anthem started last night at the MTS Centre, some knew Kroppy was in attendance and some didn’t but when the camera man found him the crowd went wild. Kroppy was not in his usual seats, but the same strong salute was there, and the words belted out of his mouth. The crowd went wild. However that was not the most emotional moment of the night.
Of all the moments in @mtscentre, this is one of the best.
Relive the moment as Kroppy wins tonight's Fan vs Fan.https://t.co/6nqDbeSvNG
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) March 31, 2016
During the second period, an in-house promotion called Fan vs. Fan was played on the scoreboard. Normally, the segment pits two fans against each other to earn the applause of the crowd, whoever gets the louder cheer wins. On this night however, there was only 1 fan anyone cared to see, and that was Kroppy. As the veteran was shown on-screen the crowd erupted. Soon everyone in the MTS Centre was on their feet, giving a standing ovation to one of their own. The players joined in, banging their sticks on the boards and ice and it wasn’t long before Kroppy’s eyes began to water, and eventually break into a full weep. He was not alone. As Heroes by David Bowie blasted over the loud-speaker, the ovation continued, and many in the audience found themselves wiping tears away, while other sheepishly tried to convince their friends they just had something in their eyes.
Re-watching the video even a day later has a similar effect. The connection that Jets fans feel, with each other, and with this team was on display. If you were unfamiliar with the situation you may have not understood what was going on, but for many Jets fans this was a moment that they will never forget. In a way, it had nothing to do with hockey, not a player, not the team. However in another way, this is what hockey is truly about. The emotion that this game brings out is special, and it was on full display on a random Wednesday night in Winnipeg.
Born and raised Winnipeg sports fan and contributor with The Hockey Writers.