The Jets are flying south to Phoenix. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
You know someone in the league’s scheduling office has to have a sense of humor to arrange that kind of matchup for the home opener. The old Jets vs. the new Jets faceoff while the old Jets fight to stay in their new town. Did you catch all that?
In a way, the rivalry isn’t what it would have been at this time last season. For years, there were a portion of Winnipeggers who relentlessly hammered fans in Phoenix because they didn’t think they deserved an NHL team. Reading comments on Coyotes articles was a virtual how-to course for people learning how to troll effectively on the internet. There was plenty of hate to go around.
But things are a little calmer now. Since Winnipeg got an NHL team, the trolls aren’t as active these days. It probably has something to do with the fact that those pesky fans finally have a team of their own to follow. In Phoenix, the ownership problems aren’t any closer to being settled. No owner, no owner in sight, and the City of Glendale paying the bills. But here’s the difference: without Winnipeg chomping at the bit for a team, there’s less tension surrounding the Coyotes as they look for a new owner.
Still, these two teams have the potential to be rivals right out of the box. Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun expects an interesting dynamic in the stands on Saturday night:
“The mood at the Jobing.com Arena, Saturday, should be an interesting mix of Phoenix fans eager to heap derision on the Jets, and by extension, the people of Winnipeg, who almost stole their team last spring, and Winnipeggers taking advantage of an easy chance to see the Jets in a building that’s almost never full.”
On the ice, the Coyotes finished their season opening three-game road trip with a 1-1-1 record. They’re looking to build on Thursday night’s impressive 5-2 victory in Nashville as they play 9 of their next 12 games at home. For a team that hopes to make it back to the playoffs for the third straight season, every point matters in the tough Western Conference.
For Coyotes captain Shane Doan, facing off against the Jets will be an odd turn of events. He was originally drafted by the Jets in 1995 and has never been traded throughout his entire career. Yet, on Saturday, he’ll be playing against the Jets. It’s an oddity that isn’t lost on the Coyotes veteran who is looking for his 300th goal on Saturday:
“It’s a unique situation in the fact that it’s Winnipeg. Our team and our organization is connected to them and that makes it pretty special. They gave me the opportunity to play in the NHL and I will always be grateful for the incredible opportunity to play there.
“Being from Western Canada, it meant so much for me. It’s pretty unique to have a chance to play against them. I signed every contract, never asked to be traded and have never been traded. Now I’m playing against the team that drafted me. But it’s different now, they’ve got a whole different organization. A great group of guys that are in there, the management and you hear such rave reviews about it and it’s exciting for the city I’m sure.”
It’ll be the Jets job to make sure Doan doesn’t feel too much at home with the Winnipeggers in attendance. Winnipeg is 0-2 in the early going and new incarnation of the team is still looking for its first win. If they could get it against Phoenix, it would make it that much sweeter for fans in Winnipeg.
And that much more bitter for fans in Phoenix.