When the Winnipeg Jets host the Montreal Canadiens at 5 pm ET today, 15 years of dreaming and hoping will be complete. Well, almost complete – most of those dreams probably ended with the Jets earning a sweet victory.
That part is up to a very young Jets roster, which only has one past-his-prime player in 35-year-old backup goalie Chris Mason. (Beyond Mason, the Jets have just one forward over 30 [Nik Antropov, 31] and three defensemen at 30: Randy Jones, Johnny Oduya and Ron Hainsey.)
Considering the situation and the Atlanta Thrashers’ recent lack of playoff appearances, this is it for players such as Evander Kane and Ondrej Pavelec. With that in mind, this ranks as head coach Claude Noel’s first big challenge: making sure that the Jets players stay within themselves and play a simple game.
“The biggest challenge is going to be keeping the emotional level of the players at an even keel,” Noel said. “That’s my biggest challenge. It’ll have to be that way through the initial 20 minutes. I recognize those things, so I’m not going to try to say anything magical that’s going to get them psyched up. They’re already going to be psyched up … I would be better to say things that will keep them calm.”
On the bright side, the Jets feature two players who aren’t very far removed from the pressure of competing in the Stanley Cup finals. Captain Andrew Ladd and catalyst Dustin Byfuglien contributed to the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 championship run, so they’ll know what to expect – generally speaking.
That being said, when you take a crowd that created such a raucous showing for a preseason game into account, even Ladd and Byfuglien might not be totally prepared for the decibel levels that today’s Winnipeg crowd will produce.
(Note: the game will be on NHL Network, by the way.)