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Brad E. Schlossman and Wayne Nelson / Forum Communications Co., Published June 01 2011

UND graduate Chipman plays integral role in relocation of Thrashers to Winnipeg

GRAND FORKS – The NHL is headed back to Winnipeg. And the man who made it happen is a former Sioux football player who earned both an undergraduate degree and a law degree at the University of North Dakota in the 1980s.

Mark Chipman is the founder, chairman and one of two partners of True North Sports and Entertainment, which purchased the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday morning and will move the team to Manitoba in the fall.

Chipman, the main orchestrator of the move, will serve as co-owner along with David Thomson, a major investor from Toronto.

“Mark has been pursuing this for a number of years,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, “quietly and quite effectively.”

Bettman said he had conversations with Chipman as far back as 2001 about bringing an NHL team back to Winnipeg. Chipman, the president of the Megill Stephenson real estate company, was the key figure in bringing the Manitoba Moose American Hockey League team to Winnipeg in 1996 as well as getting funding for the MTS Centre, built in 2004.

Those steps – especially the new arena – helped lead to the possibility of the NHL returning.

“Our city has finally received the call we’ve long been waiting for,” Chipman said during Tuesday’s news conference.

Chipman arrived at UND in the late 1970s and played football on the junior varsity team. In 1982, he moved to varsity and earned a letter as the backup quarterback and as a special teams contributor. He wore No. 4.

One of his teammates was Dale Lennon, the former Sioux coach and current head coach at Southern Illinois.

“We came in as freshmen together,” Lennon said. “He was with us all four years. He was always a good teammate. He was always there to encourage you and root for you.”

Chipman earned his undergraduate degree from UND in economics in 1983. He earned his law degree from UND two years later.

After graduation, he spent time in Florida before moving back to his hometown of Winnipeg. He has stayed in touch with UND, attending a handful of golf outings for the football program.

“He’s a good guy,” Lennon said.

Chipman also served as an assistant football coach at Grand Forks Central under head coach Mike Berg. He worked with the Central receivers during the 1984 and 1985 high school seasons while he was going to law school.

“He was a hard-working guy and he had a passion for football,” Berg said. “He’s a great guy. We still stay in touch.”

Lately, his focus has been hockey.

Chipman said he’s been trying to get the NHL back to Winnipeg since it left in 1996. The financial structure of the NHL changed after the 2004-05 lockout season, making it feasible for small-market teams.

“When the league corrected itself in a significant way, that’s when we started doing the math and we said we think this is very realistic,” Chipman said.

Schlossman and Nelson write for the Grand Forks Herald