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F-M Jets deserve a little love

If you were the F-M Jets, would you feel dissed? The most successful junior hockey team in this town's history is being treated like a third-class citizen, and nobody seems to care.

If you were the F-M Jets, would you feel dissed? The most successful junior hockey team in this town's history is being treated like a third-class citizen, and nobody seems to care.

The Jets have survived five years playing in the decrepit John E. Carlson Coliseum, they've paid their bills, they've minded their own business, they haven't whined, they haven't asked for a public handout, they've won their fair share of games and they've moved a bunch of players to NCAA Division I programs.

Their reward is to get steamrolled by an organization and a town that both claim to be hockey supporters.

Where's the love?

Although Jets co-owner Todd Norman says the franchise will try to remain in Fargo next season, it likely will be a casualty of the splashy new United States Hockey League team headed by splashy coach Dean Blais playing in the splashy new arena currently under construction. History shows little evidence of enough support to float one junior hockey team in Fargo, much less two.

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"It's our intention to stay there in town," Norman said from his Twin Cities home. "We like the town and we like being there. We've been there five years now. We've invested a lot of time and effort into making this thing work. We will try to do the best we can under the circumstances."

The circumstances include being openly stomped by USA Hockey, the organization that oversees both the USHL and the Jets' North American Hockey League. The Jets earlier this week had their lawyers send a letter of protest to USA Hockey, claiming the organization broke several of its own rules by allowing a USHL team into a market already occupied by an existing franchise. The letter also claims loss of revenue, attendance and potential players because the specter of a USHL team has raised so many questions about the future of the Jets.

Norman won't comment on the letter, nor will USA Hockey. But it appears the Jets won't go down without a fight.

It's not clear what the Jets are seeking for a resolution. It is clear the team has an uphill battle. The city has greased the skids for the new arena, and there are big bucks behind the USHL franchise. The right people are supporting the new venture. Eventually, the Jets will vaporize.

Oddly, few will notice or care. Despite the constant proclamations that Fargo is a great hockey town, the Jets have never drawn well. Going into last night's game at the Coliseum against Bismarck, they are averaging 690 fans per game this season.

It's not for lack of quality. The Jets are a better brand of hockey than many realize, and the numbers say so. Coach Chad Johnson said the Jets have sent 21 players to Division I programs in their first four years. Six players off last year's team alone had Division I offers and five accepted. Every player who's worn a Jets uniform, Johnson said, has continued his hockey career. Most have gone to Division III teams.

Those are not USHL-like numbers, since that league gets the elite skaters who end up at top college programs and sometimes the NHL. But it's not bad.

"I think that's more than respectable," Johnson said.

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No question. For some reason, respectability hasn't translated into love.

Forum sports columnist Mike McFeely can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 10 a.m. to noon on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com . McFeely's blog can be found at www.areavoices.com F-M Jets deserve a little love Mike McFeely 20071201

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