The Winnipeg Jets might enjoy a “honeymoon period” with fans for at least the 2011-12 season, but the once-forsaken market wouldn’t mind witnessing some glorious wins, either. Under normal circumstances, preseason games are quickly forgotten unless something terrible happens (such as a season-ending injury), but it’s likely that many Winnipeg fans won’t forget Sept. 20 anytime soon.
While the Jets’ other squad lost a 5-1 game in Columbus, the Jets’ second split squad rewarded fans for creating a “playoff atmosphere” at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre by beating the second group of Blue Jackets 6-1. The MTS Center was packed with more than 15,000 fans for a game that won’t count in the standings but certainly meant something to fans who’ve been waiting 15 years to watch another Jets game.
The Globe & Mail’s Roy MacGregor captured the passionate scene, underscoring how pointless it would be to tell Winnipeg fans that the game means nothing on paper.
But the Winnipeg Jets are no longer on paper, no longer an idea, a hope, a prayer. As of 6:59 p.m. Central Time, when the reborn team skated out to a thunderous reception for merely the warm-up, they were once again the real, living Winnipeg Jets – even if none of the names on the new blue-and-white jerseys were Hawerchuk or Selanne, the two most popular names on the backs of the 15,004 fans who packed the rink for this meaningless yet highly symbolic game.
Instead of Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne, the local heroes of yesteryear, there were Andrew Ladd, the new captain, Dustin Byfuglien, the new face of the franchise, and 18-year-old Mark Scheifele, the future.
“In 2011,” the MTS Centre scoreboard read, “The NHL Returned to the Greatest Fans in the World.”
And certainly it seemed so. They screamed through the warm-up and sang O Canada as if the players on the ice had just won Olympic gold.
Defenseman Paul Postma scored the first goal on the power play, with assists from Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd. Postma finished with a goal and three assist for four points, tying him with 2011 first round pick Mark Scheifele as the game’s top point-getters. Scheifele recorded two tallies – including the winner late in the first period – and added two helpers. Byfuglien couldn’t help but praise Scheifele after a performance that could help the prospect make an immediate jump to the NHL.
Speaking of Byfuglien, the oversized defenseman made a Byfuglien-sized impact in a game, shaking off bad news from earlier today. Byfuglien fought Cody Bass just 37 seconds into the game and eventually finished the night with two assists and nine penalty minutes. Mark Stuart also fought Dane Byers at that moment, which set the tone for a rough-and-tumble contest in which each team received 60 PIM.
Blue Jackets’ 2010 first round pick Ryan Johansen scored his team’s only goal, which made it 2-1 at the time. Ondrej Pavelec stopped 17 out of 18 shots through the first two periods, while David Aebischer made his own return to the NHL consciousness by making all nine saves in the final frame. Curtis Sanford absorbed all six goals for the Blue Jackets.
Yes, tonight’s game won’t bring the Jets any closer to a playoff berth, but it’s trivial to mock fans for celebrating this win so robustly. They’ve waited long enough.