Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Winnipeg Jets are back.......

Anyone that knows me knows that I am a big Man United fan. While I have travelled around the world I have always managed to find a bar or internet where I can watch or at least keep updated on the latest Man United games. Everywhere I have been I have met fellow reds, some who have even been to see a game at Old Trafford, but most who just follow the team because of the history and passion associated with the club.

The Jets logo

I also follow a number of other sports too – Formula one racing, cricket and American football would all be on my list of sports that I follow. United has always been different though. The passion that follows when you meet a fellow United fan is something I have never seen as much of in any other sports......until I came to Winnipeg.

The NHL is the Ice Hockey league that runs in America and Canada. Thirty teams play 80 odd games during the season before the play offs and then a 7 series game as the two best teams play for the Stanley cup at the start of summer. Winnipeg has its own team – The Winnipeg Jets. They haven’t been near to winning the Stanley cup but that doesn’t matter. Just that fact that the team exists is enough to bring a grown Winnipeg man close to tears. Because this is a team that has risen from the ashes and boasts the most raucous, loudest and loyal fans I have ever met in any sport.

This is a video that was made to celebrate the return of the Jets to Winnipeg

The story of the Winnipeg Jets starts when they were formed in 1972. They played as a team in the NHL until 1996, when due to financial troubles the franchise and team were bought by a business and moved lock, stock and barrel to Phoenix, Arizona. The locals in Winnipeg were distraught at losing their team and attempted to save the team themselves. They gathered together and had events to raise money for the team and in a matter of a few weeks actually collected $13million dollars. It wasn’t enough though and the team left – never to return. 

In a place like Winnipeg it is like tearing the heart out of the city. Winnipeg isn’t near to anywhere else. It’s a six hour drive to the nearest reasonably sized city, so people can’t just go out and watch another team. NHL Hockey in Winnipeg was dead. 

For years people hoped and prayed that something would happen and that the NHL would return, but it didn’t happen. Until, in 2009 a rumour started to circulate that ‘True North Entertainment’, the owners of the newly built MTS entertainment arena in the city centre, were trying to buy another financially insecure team. The rumours were true and on May 20th 2011 it was announced that the Atlanta Thrashers were being bought and moved to Winnipeg. The city went mad – literally, with crowds of people gathering at Portage and Main – the busiest road junction in the city - where they closed the road and started an impromptu game of hockey whilst chanting ‘Go Jets Go#, late into the night. Most of the people celebrating were 16 to 25 years old and would have been little kids when the original Jets left. I cant imagine how they felt as children losing their team, only for 15 years later for it to return. It must have been a brilliant feeling.

When season tickets went on sale they were gone in minutes – The drive to 13000 selling out instantly. 8000 people signed up and now pay to be on the stand by list, just in case a season ticket becomes available.  Tickets for the first game were selling on the internet for over $1700 – that over £1000! For one game. 

The team didn’t do too badly in their first season back – there were some spectacular games and some great goals, but they didn’t qualify for the play offs. This is partly due to the slightly unfair way the team is being treated. As they team had come from Atlanta, Georgia – they remained in the same south eastern division. So while teams from New York and Washington travel relatively short distances to play most of their games against their local rivals – The Jets have to travel for hours to places like Florida and North Carolina. This doesn’t help when you play a game every two to three days. 

None of this mattered to the fans though as they were just pleased to get their team back and some of the fans even realised it was cheaper to travel to these far away games, where the teams were less well supported and you can get a ticket for $60. Much like when Man United travel away, it’s now not unusual for the Jets fans to take over someone else’s arena. 

My favourite goal from last season...

The recent NHL lockout, when the players and owners couldn’t agree on a new pay deal meant that we (yes, I class myself a Jets fan now) have had to wait for over 100 days since the season should have started to see the team play again. The deal is in place now though and tomorrow at 2pm the MTS centre will once again be shaking to the sound of the crowd shouting ‘TRUE NORTH’ during the Canadian anthem before the start of the game. Tickets are like gold dust and selling for many hundreds of dollars again and the bars around town will be full with people watching the game on TV.  

The MTS centre before a game.

We did go last week to an open practice to see the players skate around the ice for an hour. The open practice was announced at 11pm at night on Saturday. 12 hours later over 5000 people turned up decked out in their jets logos just to watch. You could feel the excitement in the arena. People had huge smiles and cameras flashed for the entire hour long practice.I knew that like me, a lot of the people there would probably not get to see the team play this season. There just aren’t enough tickets. The MTS centre has a reputation for the rowdiest and loudest supporters in the entire league – even though it is the smallest arena. People don’t like Jets fans because they don’t shut up. Its like a football crowd and it gets the other fans riled up. Bu the other fans do respect the Jets fans for this – they just don’t like them! 

Me at the practice in my Jets top

The Buff meister

Pavelec and Byfuglien playing

Pretty busy for a sunday morning

Mick E Moose!

The team

Weirdly though what happens during the season doesn’t really matter. The fans don’t expect anything – they would hope for a successful season, but will keep shouting and coming to games no matter what happens. These are true fans that will follow their team come what may. You cannot go out in town, day or night without seeing the Jets logo somewhere. In the shopping centres and bars someone will be wearing a hat, a jersey or a jacket. Cars everywhere have Jets logo on their number plates and every couple of minutes on the radio the team is mentioned. It really is obsessive and crazy but I like most everyone else in this city love every second of it. It’s a short season because of the lockout and so we will only get to see 48 games unfortunately. But after a 15 year wait, before this extra wait to start this, the 2nd season, nobody cares anymore. 

The Jets are back, again. Go Jets go.  

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