The clock strikes 6:15 p.m. in Downtown Winnipeg; the feeling of anticipation is akin to that of a team’s first playoff game in ten years (maybe forever). Winnipeg has been without the top level of professional hockey since the doors closed at the Winnipeg Arena in late April, 1996.
Some said the city would never be the same without the Jets, few ever said what the city would be like if the Jets suddenly reappeared.
Maybe the Jets needed to leave for the city to realize its capabilities, for the businesses to flourish in its absence, or maybe most importantly, for the public to realize, we as a collective group, could fare without NHL hockey.
Sure we could “survive”, quite well in fact, but we always believed we could fare even better with the NHL returning to this great city.
The above paragraphs, or any words for that matter, do little justice to the feeling of excitement that took place in the MTS Centre last night. So, here is a brief chronicle of the excitement from the moment the doors opened, to the moment the players came out for the pre-game skate. See, if we chronicled the time from the pre-game skate to the puck drop, we at Illegal Curve would not be able to take that feeling in without distraction. It is during those moments that no distractions apply. No cell phones. No Twitter. No Facebook. Just us. The fans of the Jets; the people of Winnipeg uniting for a common cause.
Does it get any better than this?
6:25 p.m.: The attendance is sparse but there is a feeling of excitement. This is not the calm one feels before an NHL exhibition game, or a regular season game for that matter.
6:31 p.m.: People continue to trickle in, the visibility of old fashioned Jets jersey becomes apparent—like it was ever really going to be a surprise…
6:33 p.m.: The staff at MTS Centre enters the ice to work on the ice surrounding the crease. Something so simple never really attracts our attention, but everything is amplified on this surreal evening.
6:34 p.m.: The television lights appear in the North End of the building. Television lights. TSN Jets will be broadcasting this contest. TSN, of course, broadcasts the NHL. This is an NHL game. Pinch us, we’re dreaming.
6:36 p.m.: The nets have entered the ice. The warm up nets that is. But nets nonetheless.
6:39 p.m.: The first audible cheer emanates from the stands. Some in the 100 section are standing, clearly unable to curb their enthusiasm.
6:40 p.m.: Warm-up time says 19:19, 19:18, 19:17. The logos underneath are both blue and red—Winnipeg and Columbus. As Tim Campbell said in the Free Press this morning—did anyone believe this would happen 15 years ago?
6:41 p.m.: PA announcer (Jay Richardson of Jay and Troy) welcoming everyone to the MTS Centre, the crowd of, probably 1,000 people, applauds and cheers.
6:43 p.m.: The Code of Conduct appears. The joy will likely not lead to any incidents. The people are too elated to cause trouble.
6:48 p.m.: People are getting acquainted with their new season seats. The seat selection process is one thing; the real thing is a whole lot different (never mind October 9).
6:53 p.m.: Audio of “Go Jets Go” plays over the loud speaker.
6:55 p.m.: Sara Orlesky sets up shop on the team bench to tape her pre-game spot.
6:58 p.m.: All we can think of is that this is NOTHING compared to what October 9 will be.
7:00 p.m.: The players enter the rink in their “home” whites. The fans can’t stop cheering. Place wasn’t even full yet and sounded like many other NHL arenas filled to their capacity.
We hope you enjoyed the game. We did. It was only the first NHL hockey game featuring the Jets in 15 years…