WINNIPEG — A Second World War veteran who became famous for his salute during the singing of O Canada at Winnipeg Jets games has died.
A relative confirms that Len Kropioski, who was 98, died Tuesday afternoon at a personal care home in Kenora, Ont.
Affectionately known by his admirers as Kroppy, the senior super fan was almost always shown on the scoreboard standing at attention and saluting his country at the end of the national anthem to loud cheers at MTS Centre.
He was hospitalized for about a month earlier this year but made a return to the arena and received a standing ovation, which brought tears to his eyes as he blew kisses toward the crowd.
Kropioski, who grew up in Winnipeg’s north end and lived for many years in Kenora, had a long history of cheering on teams in his home town.
Not only was he a season-ticket holder with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, but he was a regular at Jets games at the old Winnipeg Arena before the franchise moved to Phoenix.
“It’s been a tough day,” said granddaughter Kim Innard of Kenora after confirming her grandfather had died.
“It’s pretty raw for the family. He’s been sick since last December.”
Innard told the Winnipeg Free Press in March that Kropioski intended to be at a Jets game near the end of the month and that he had signed up for season tickets for the next five years.
She told the newspaper that he wouldn’t watch a hockey game unless it involved the Jets.
“He’s that Jets loyal. He’s in great spirits and he’s getting stronger,” she had said.
The Jets and True North Sports and Entertainment said in a statement that they were saddened to learn of Kropioski’s death.
“Kroppy was the consummate hockey fan and his support of the team and the organization has always been genuine and pure, dating back to our time in the AHL. His devotion to make the two-hour trip from Kenora to always ensure he was in his front row seat in time for the anthems demonstrated how passionate Winnipeg Jets fans can be.”
The organization also said that “Kroppy had a tremendous impact on the organization, particularly those who interacted with him and came to know his family well. He will be missed.”
The club said it’s working on a plan to honour and remember Kropioski when the team opens the regular season on Oct. 13 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Kropioski served with the Winnipeg Grenadiers in the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska in 1943. He and his fellow Canadian soldiers, along with their American counterparts, were sent there after Japanese forces fled.
He had a childhood friend in Second World War hero Andrew Mynarski, who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross after he died saving a fellow airman aboard a Lancaster bomber that had been shot up by an enemy fighter plane.
In the early 1970s, when professional hockey was new in Winnipeg, Kropioski knew the team’s owner, Ben Hatskin. They went to St. John’s Technical High School together.